It has come down to this: today—at the urging of the wee wife—I cleaned out my closet. Winter clothes are stowed away. Clothes that no longer fit (I wonder why) will find a new home. Pants are with pants, shirts with shirts, golf paraphernalia are hanging together, ready for the day when courses reopen. I didn’t do anything radical like alphabetizing by label or arranging by palette, but I did find a few items I had forgotten about. The highlight was a belt. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll find time to cull the herd in my sock drawer. Who knows what’s lurking in there?
The thing about time is that when we have plenty of it, we find ways to fill it instead of relishing its inherent stillness. Being for all intents and purposes an only child, I became used to silence at an early age. The wee wife, one of nine in her family’s brood, thinks silence is weird. She turns the tv on but doesn’t watch. I’ve come to the conclusion that for her it’s just the soothing white noise that was always in the background when she was growing up.
Anyway, I think there’s something profound about stillness. I’m drawn to quiet places like a moth to the candle’s flame. Those places used to be hard to find, but lately, they’re everywhere, even in the middle of the street. It used to be that a shell of stillness enveloped this town on Sunday; now it’s there seven days a week. At first, that was a bit disconcerting, but it’s becoming less so. Do you think I should worry? We all believe it won’t be this way forever, so maybe when the hurly burly returns, I’ll head for the hills. Just my luck: by then, they’ll probably all be filled with the sound of music.
While stillness can, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, come creeping in on little cat’s feet, the real trick is to let it penetrate the mind and create a hushed inner sanctum sanctorum, a holy of holies, where everything winds down and comes to a complete stop. It’s easy to imagine such a place, but try as I might, I can’t seem to get there. There is always some echoing footstep to remind me of something done or left undone that needs reckoning. I suppose I should be glad for the distraction; if the alternative is the stillness of the grave, I’m decidedly not ready to experience that yet.
Stoics and Buddhists keep reminding us that those who are able to still their minds are those who can conquer their nature and accomplish great things. Great athletes speak reverently about the fleeting moments when they find themselves “in the zone,” the place where the mind switches off and lets the body take over to do what it must without thought or effort. They find the place only to lose it again, but for that one shining moment, the world is theirs. How I envy them!
I took the photograph that accompanies this Musing in Venice several years ago on a quiet Sunday afternoon stroll. I turned a corner and suddenly the world went away and there was only color and light and stillness. The click of the shutter shattered the moment, but then, that’s how it is with stillness. To recognize it is to lose it.
Think about that. Or don’t.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com