When I was a kid--around 10 or 11, probably--I used to have a tree in our backyard that was my hiding place. It sat against our back fence, its trunk buried in hedges. It wasn't a very big tree, but it was easily climbable, and once you were up in its lower branches, you were invisible to the world. When I needed to get out from under Family and all the cares and woes of being 10, it's where I went. I could sit up in the tree and watch the world--or at least the three houses and yards near ours. Like Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window," I could forget my own troubles while eavesdropping on someone else's.
Yes, 10-year-olds have "troubles." They may be smaller than the ones I deal with today, but back then, they didn't seem that way.
In the summers, when my family decamped for the mountains, I found my escape in an old, white rowboat, which I could take out by myself on the lake we lived near. I could bring a book with me, row out to the middle of the lake, and then just drift--reading or dreaming, listening to the water lap against the sides of the boat.
Those doing-nothing times are some of my happiest memories, and I wonder, looking at my own children--one of whom is now 11--where they can find some alone time, to just be--to just sit with their own thoughts, comfortable in their own minds, unafraid of the silence.
It doesn't take us long to get frightened of the silence. When I ran away to Eastern Europe, to teach English and escape my life for a few months, the first few weeks were horrifying. The sun set at about 4:00 PM, and then I just sat there, in my little room, alone. No TV, no music, and no one to talk to. I would go outside, in the bitter, January cold, and do laps around the small town, just to see if anyone was up and about. But everyone there had a home, and a family (all the things I was running away from), and they were all comfortably hunkered down away from the darkness and the cold. So I went back to my room, and I tried to read. But even that was difficult, in the roaring silence around me--the silence I was so unused to.
It's a terrible thing not to be comfortable with yourself, alone in a room. God knows, that's not a new observation. Blase Pascal nailed it, hundreds of years ago: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."
And it's still true.
I stumbled across this interesting article on "sacred time and space," and thought it was worth a think. My wife and I have been talking about some of these things--like finding a way to honor the idea of a "sabbath"--if not by the letter of the law, then at least in spirit. Watching my boys watch TV, and play video games, and work on their computers, I know I need to do something.
I can't make them go sit in a tree, but maybe if I can give them more open, quiet time, that still, small voice in their heads will tell them to go find one on their own.