I’m lying on a sundrenched bed in a small finished attic with only a narrow width of flat ceiling above me. Slanted walls are all around, as well as two large skylights and an arching picture window. I’ve propped pillows along the foot of an iron bedframe, transforming my perspective and allowing me to gaze out in the direction of the shoreline. I can only see the top quarter of the trees, but still the unusual position has shifted my perspective, as if I’ve turned in the direction of an altar on which to cast my eyes and pray. There could be no more deserving emblem of God and the greater mystery than that of the trees.
Two or three with wide spindly limbs fill the foreground, their bare branches spreading apart like skeleton hands. Beyond those is a tall, thin, majestic pine with feathery leaves. In utter stillness, looking out at the scene, I soak in the sunbeams, allowing my energy to settle.
It’s as if a weighted blanket has landed on all of the bustling parts of me and tucked them into their resting places. Some tension that’s gotten bunched up in my chest spreads out, softening the space behind my heart. It’s a relief and a reminder about what it means to stop and to surrender to a place and moment in time.
We might work it so this can never be. Endless outlets calling us, entertaining us, filling us up with messages. It’s easy to fall into a haze, forgetting what it means to be with ourselves, with rapt attention. It’s easy to think that we ourselves are all of those outside sirens. That we are beholden to them.
The sun heats up my bare skin and I imagine it as a healing force piercing through the skylight and submerging directly into me. It soothes my abdomen and chest where my hands rest, experiencing the drum of my heartbeat. There are so many places to go looking for nourishment and healing. What could be more soothing than this? It’s no wonder Adrian occasionally looks at me and claims I resemble a cat.
It’s a luxury to allow time for stillness, for rest. More and more I understand the cessation of activity as a necessity, as a birthright. In the quiet I listen for a rhythm—a sensation filled with valuable information—separate and infinitely beyond the 24-hr news cycle.
Gusts of wind come bursting through the trees, casting branches from side to side like a giant’s arm, sweeping away layers of blue sky and clouds. The roar is almost as compelling as the sun and raises goosebumps on my arms, a reward.
Winter has not reached its furthest edge—it has not elicited the broadest sense of my having made it through something—until I find myself thirsting for sun in this way. My mind flashes to a cherished memory. Walking with my mother on a spring day, she suddenly stops. Removing her sunglasses, she tips her head back into the path of the sun. I can see the warmth heating up her soft skin, witnessing how much it fuels her.
The heat I can now feel is evidence of the Spring Equinox and a reminder we’ve lived out more than half-a-season in this new and temporary place on the sunrise side of the bay. We’ve spent more than half of the winter making this rental house a home. At first, we dragged our feet coming here. Josh was worried about his shoulder and the small bed. He thought he’d come and go, sleeping behind plastic and among the construction back home. I was in-denial, waiting until the last moments to book a place for us to stay. After the holidays it felt like too much to keep working so hard at things.
I packed as little as possible. A few board games, a couple boxes of pasta and olive oil for the pantry, one special stuffed Pooh Bear. All of our clothing fit inside a large hamper and a small carry-on suitcase. The boys and I came and went from the quaint cottage as if we had been relegated to uniforms. Every day I wore one of a few pairs of leggings, a tunic and a new cream-colored wool sweater I had stained with soot from the wood stove. The boys alternated three top layers and a couple pairs of pants and long johns for weeks on end. I wondered what their teachers and classmates might have thought about this intense repetition.
Shortly after we arrived, a Nor’easter brought a mammoth snow. I quickly located the pots and pans and put the soup on. We sat at the small dinner table inches from a row of large windows that looked out into a wintery scene, playing board games and watching as the wind whipped around outside. We observed a tall deck chair slide from one side of the porch to the other as if it were possessed by an invisible occupant. Later, there was a loud crash when an old church pew on the far end of the porch was knocked over by the wind.
After a few weeks I realized the galley kitchen with a washer and dryer in a small room off to the side required less effort and movement than our upstairs laundry room and large kitchen at home. The closer proximity to town allowed for more impromptu gatherings with friends. A French cast iron cooking pan inspired tasty and aromatic meals that we shared at the small table where we could touch elbows while we ate.
It turned out there was a familiar soulfulness in our new space that seemed to scoop us up and pull us close in a way that our larger home could not. It’s breathtaking how much can transpire within a family in just a couple of months. Ours is no exception and something about this space held us in just the way we needed in a unique stretch of time.
Stopping by our actual home a couple of times each week, I found myself coming and going quickly, grabbing what I needed, but never settling into my studio or desk to work in the way I thought I might. Despite the ample watering they received, our plants became droopy and some of them perished. They seemed to be lacking something more than liquid and light, of which they were getting plenty. Arriving afterward, back at our new space, I experienced a familiar sense of comfort.
I mentioned repeatedly how much I adored where we were staying. Josh suggested maybe we should downsize and although neither of us really entertained the idea, I didn’t feel any urgency about leaving. It seemed I could go on with my uniform and mini kitchen indefinitely. It seemed I could navigate the slippery-with-socks staircase at least until the forsythia bloomed. That is, until this week.
I had taken the long road east in the direction of the peninsula where our house sits on the sunset side. There were letters to pick up and a check-in with contractors. I hit the stretch of road where an expansive field occupies several acres across the road from where the osprey come and nest each spring. It was the first time I’d seen the field bare again since the latest snow had been washed away by heavy rains.
The sun shone high and bright, and the damp yellow grass spread out like an enormous blanket across the plane. Slowing, I imagined what it would be like to get out and walk through the bountiful space. I could almost feel my arms stretched out wide, my entire being enveloped by the blue sky and greeted by a line of tall trees standing gracefully on the far edge of the property.
A shift occurred. It was time to come home.
When I arrived at the house, I began to imagine us occupying the space again. A kitchen filled with the aroma of food. Incense wafting near the entry. Boys running up and down stairs. Toothpaste left to be cleaned from new sinks. A studio warmed, once again, by a small space heater.
I didn’t anticipate how much our relocation would unearth in me. I didn’t know I was entering into a time I would remember and cherish for its plentiful teaching. In our home-away-from-home, I thought a lot about suffering.
Mine. His. Yours. All of ours.
I prayed for a sense of hope and for transformation, focusing on the moment at hand. Seeing the person. Believing in the resonant value of all—even the small—acts of love.