Stillness

THE farmhouse that was my childhood home was blessed with a large, spacious kitchen. Early in my experience I found that a roomy kitchen was not just a place in which to prepare food. It was a room to be lived in, and, because television hadn't made its appearance to occupy thought and attention, the kitchen also served as a place of learning. Grandpa's rocking chair was by a window overlooking the valley. It was seldom anyone sat in that chair, with the exception of Teddy, a stocky, short-legged dog that nobody dared move too quickly. This corner was the place of learning.

In the evening two more chairs were provided: one for Grandma and the other for Aunt Kate, Grandpa's favorite sister. It was here that fascinating stories were told: stories of happy, mischievous children who had lived deep in the Canadian woods. The stories contained no hint of complaint of poverty as they told of log-cabin days and a home so poorly constructed that snowflakes filtered through onto faces in the winter.

There was an occasional story of suspense, of seeing the bright eyes of a wildcat in a tree as they came home through the woods at dusk. There was humor, too, as they would laughingly recall catching tails of barnyard oxen and trying at the same time to save from destruction the one and only Sunday-best outfits, which they happened to be wearing.

From these dear teachers I learned many priceless lessons of unselfishness. Anything they possessed, no matter how meager, was shared generously.

When Grandma was the last one left, she'd sit quietly in the dark. The lesson this provided escaped me for many years. How can you teach a young, energetic person the value of stillness? Stillness, that is, a complete sense of freedom from the need to hear the spoken word. Stillness that is harmony voicing itself; peace declaring its presence.

I'm sure Grandma knew no loneliness. And her silence seemed to contain no disappointment or sorrow, but it was filled with the value of years of service and achievement; a reminder of the dignity of self-worth that takes form in quiet satisfaction.

Passing years of experience have proven the worth of the family education that was shared so lovingly. Recently I found that the lessons still come forth in today's busy world.

One beautiful Sunday afternoon was the ideal time to go to a Gulf-side beach. It was a busy place. I went, resolved to read and write, and so chose what seemed to be a quiet, remote spot and ``settled in.'' The quietness was soon interrupted by hard rock coming from a radio that was carried by a young man. He sat down a short distance from me and turned up the volume to fortissimo. I continued to remain silent, but was asking myself why I didn't move to a quieter spot.

Then, as I approached just the right place, I noted a senior citizen, eyes closed, lying on the grass. Beside him was a small radio that detonated forth -- with a big band sound! So, I reasoned, ``Why not go to my car and sit there; with window down, and a gentle breeze blowing, and the much-coveted quietness -- for what more could I ask?''

I went to the car. In less time than it took me to turn down the windows, a car parked beside me, its young driver beamed and nodded his ``hello.'' Almost immediately a pickup truck slammed on brakes and parked on the other side. Nine loud, laughing young men burst forth from this vehicle. The doors were left open for the truck's radio to cacophonate and drown out their voices.

It was at this point that Grandma's lesson was a reminder that my withinness is always safe from my withoutness. I need look no longer for an escape. My inner peace had rescued me!

``But, Grandma, would you believe that stillness can withstand hard rock?''

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