stillness

The streets are quiet. The week seems endless. This morning, at least, there is sun.

The writing is halting at best. A few notes before bed or an image on the way home from work that I jot down on a parking receipt while idling at a stop light. This waiting. For the new year to begin.

We returned from Rochester late at night in the cold dark, carried the sleeping boy to his bed, unloaded the car.

A stillness in the house, on the street – even down on the highway. In the office, I clear out old files, make lists, begin outlining the new year’s projects. People chatter in the hallway. They speak of their families and their travels. They tell of grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Their voices are animated and loud.

A soliloquy on stillness from Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge:

O night without objects. O out impassive windows, O carefully closed doors; settings from olden times, taken on, credited, never completely understood. O stillness in the staircase, stillness from adjoining rooms, stillness high up on the ceiling. O mother: O you, the only one who fended off all this stillness from me in the days of childhood. Who takes the stillness upon herself, saying: don’t be frightened, it’s me. Who has the courage in the night to completely be this shelter for what is afraid, what is desperate from fear. You strike a light, and are already the noise. And you hold the light in front of you and say: It’s me, don’t be frightened. And you put it down, slowly, and there is no doubt: it is you, you are the light around the kind, familiar things that are there without any deeper meaning, good, simple, unambiguous.

A comfort in returning to stillness. To the familiar worn objects of the home we have made. After dinner with M.’s parents, we walk them back to their rooms in the assisted living facility they now call home. In each room, there are objects I recognize. Quilted wall hangings, photographs. Books. His mother asks me for a tissue from the bathroom and beneath the mirror, I see she has taped a series of photos of my son and I pause there at the sink to keep myself from weeping.

This time last year, we peeled clementines and ate them standing up in our socked feet, all of us crowded into the kitchen of the family house. It is a bit of foolish sentimentality, I know, that keeps me returning there in my memory, but the end of the year always finds me wistful, vulnerable, all the old wounds open. This season with its expectations. This season with all its promises. The pressures this season exerts on the heart.

We spend Christmas morning at M.’s sister’s house and watch our son as he tears through gift after gift, the wrapping paper crumpled and strewn all over the carpeted floor. He is exuberant, loud. For a time, don’t we all rest our sadness down on his small head? The fullness of him, the roundness of his cheeks, his mouth still sticky from a rushed breakfast of cinnamon rolls and apple slices. He is alive and electric and wide-eyed. His delight.

The drive home is quiet. The rest areas desolate, gray snow piled up in the parking lots. I sleep lightly while M. drives the endless highways. Our boy sleeps, too.

Our families are scattered and we always end up traveling for Christmas. A few years ago, we started planning our own celebration on the weekend before the holiday, so we could have a day in our own home, a day we were all together, our tiny family. We maintained some of the rituals from each of our childhoods – for me, the table covered with sweets on Christmas Eve and for M., waffles for breakfast on Christmas. One year, it was a full week before the holiday, but we didn’t care. It was a Saturday and in the morning, we stumbled downstairs and gathered around the tree in our night clothes, exchanged our gifts. And as we all sit there in the luxury of a few lazy hours, a light snow falls. By afternoon, everything – the sidewalks, the front lawn, the porch steps, the tree branches – is still and quiet and shrouded in the freshly-fallen snow.