Sunday, October 16, 2011

In Search of Hundred Acre Wood

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.

1 comment:

Julie D. said...

I also have those fond memories of being bored and having all outdoors to hang out in ... during summer time and, really, any time when I wasn't doing homework. It is why I resisted letting the kids sign up for more than one extra activity during the school year and why they rarely signed up for any extra stuff during the summers. They had the chance to be bored and it worked well, although as we were in suburbia by then, there was less outdoor time than I had as a kid.

Anyway, what really piqued my interest was your comment about making more silent time/sacred time on the sabbath. About a year ago, my husband and I made a commitment to try to do that more often. My guidelines have sharpened to not doing anything I can check off of a "to do" list and not turning on my computer or iPod (at least for personal listening). This is surprisingly difficult, which tells me that it is a good thing to fight that somewhat addictive tendency. Also, it has opened up more family time. Even though our kids are in their 20s, we still will play games and suchlike in spare time. There is nothing like a game of Zombie to bring a family together, even if it is only in forming alliances to keep the front-runners away from the helicopter!