Quietude: A Relationship Baseline

My story is not everyone’s story, of course, but some will identify with it. My relationship with my children has revolved around quiet times more than any other type of activity. I won’t say that we abhorred noise (got some stories to negate that) but our household was quiet, and I think we came to associate that with comfort, safety, calm, peace, refuge and rest.

When they were small, the girls did a lot of quiet playing. We read a lot. During their school years, they studied at home so the house was quiet during school hours. They liked being in their rooms, having friends over to talk or play games. As music got more prominent in their lives, there were occasional loud moments but there didn’t seem to be a time when they were afraid of silence.

Sunset silence, on a walk.

This is a very loud world and I’m kind of glad that we adopted quietude as a way of life, a baseline. I still see Julie and Esther doing their best to plan quietude into their lives. I have many memories of morning coffee time with one or the other of them, in a quiet coffee shop or outside on the patio. We take quiet walks, just us and nature. We sit around campfires with only the sound of the flames and some nightbirds. We sit in the kitchen late at night talking, but not always talking, sometimes just being. We like quiet sports, bike riding, hiking, kayaking and horseback rides. It’s not just okay to be quiet, it’s actually healthy and healing.

Quietude is also about calming and bringing peace, and often when I’m bothered about the twists and turns of life, I call or text my girls. The relationships we’ve built help settle me, make me feel known, heard and somehow calmer. A quiet talk with someone who loves me, listens to my story, maybe even prays with me is the best medicine ever!

Quietude in our relationships tells us it is okay to retreat to a dark room with a headache if we need to. We understand when one of us needs to leave the crowd, or get away from overstimulation. One on one has always been my preferred way of interacting and definitely preferred in my relationship with my daughters. It allows for being quiet, personal, and more deeply relational.

My daughters don’t live near enough to have regular, in person quiet times with me, but my mom and my youngest brother do. Most every morning I take the short walk over to Mom’s front door and open it, knowing the smell of fresh coffee will be there inside. Mom will wave at me from her recliner and we will just sit for a while before we begin to talk. A few minutes later we will hear the door open again and my brother will come in and sit down with us. We talk about what we’re reading, what’s on our mind, how our families are getting along, what our plans are for the day. But often we are quiet, just sitting, thinking. And that’s okay.

Just thinking, in the woods where it’s quiet.

The Hill

There is a hill.  On a farm in Wisconsin.

At one time there was only one tree on the hill, an old white pine that stood guard alongside a lane that connected the fields. It was tall and imposing, standing out on the landscape as one looked north from the farmhouse to the horizon. I grew up looking at that tree, running to it for thinking time, listening to the constant, soft brush of wind through the pine needles. I would have liked to have climbed up in it but there were no branches I could reach.  It was a refuge.

One year there were cows in the field. My father had sold his milk cows but had a herd of young cattle that was like a band of unruly teenagers.  They would run the fence line looking for a place to go under, over or through the barbed wire. They had a great deal of energy and, something that most people don’t realize about cows, they had a crazy curiosity. Anything unusual within their sight would start them on an approach path, faster and faster until they were running in a stampede, a kind of mob mentality as I remember it.

I was visiting the tree one day when the cows were in that field.  They saw me on the hill and came rushing up to investigate.  Cows in a large group are intimidating. They’re big, heavy animals and they mill around, eyes wide and hot, moist breath sniffing at the object of their curiosity, all the time ready to bolt if startled.  I flattened myself against it’s trunk and the tree and I were engulfed in the herd.

It turned into a magical moment. As long as I was still the cows took turns pointing their wet noses at me and milling back into the group. I was the vulnerable one with only the tree at my back for protection. They were the free and dominant ones.  Eventually they were satisfied and trotted off in a different direction.  I still felt the awe and wonder of it as I watched them take off. I feel it again as I remember.

The tree was hit by lightning a few years later during a storm. Its twisted, split and broken frame lay on the hill for several years before it rotted away.

Now, there is just a hill.