Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Quiet Story

I have always been drawn to quiet places.

When I was nine my quiet place was within the evergreen canopy of three trees in our backyard.  At that age, quiet places let you daydream from a protected distance about how you can win the adoration of the girl you love.  A quiet place lets you pray that if you could just "go out with her" you’d never want for anything else. 

My childhood house years after we moved out.   It looks different.  Smaller, of course.

When I was 11, I found my quiet in my new bedroom in the basement.  After my father died, the house was quiet everywhere.  But the quiet downstairs was more private.  A boy could cry and not feel shame.  Or he could be happy and not worry that it was inappropriate. 

When I was 13 my quiet place needed to be farther away from home.  So I went to the woods and found a rock upon whose surface provided a view of the valley.  I could see the river and the golf course but cars, streets, and houses were far enough away to make me feel alone.  I needed that.  I needed to be alone because I felt alone anyway.  Being alone when you feel alone feels better. 

Overlooking the Little Spokane River.  One of my quiet places.

Life kept changing.  By the time I was 16 I had fallen in love and had a girlfriend.  It was a different girl than the one I prayed for when I was nine but I still prayed that if God would just let me hold onto her I would never want for anyone or anything else.  But I wasn’t ready for that kind of love.  I was jealous.  I was insecure.  I tried to hold onto things so tightly because I was afraid of losing them.  So I lost the girl.

And when Mom remarried we moved into a new house to “start over” without ghosts and I lost all those quiet places I used to go to.  I had to return to the woods to find a new place for being quiet and although I found one, my thoughts were so loud, so confused, that the quiet couldn't take hold in me.

After high school the quiet was everywhere.  I had my own car.  It burned a quart of oil every 100 miles or so, but it was mine.  I didn’t know where I was going in life, but I drove all over the place.  Maybe I was looking for direction.  Maybe I hoped to find something out there on the side of a road.  Maybe I thought the music I listened to would teach me something.  Maybe.  But I think I was just looking for more quiet.  And I found it somehow.  And I started to feel whole again. 

I spent several summers working at the camp I had grown up going to.  Nestled within the Selkirk Mountains of north-eastern Washington state, “Camp” was a beautiful, joyful place full of laughter, squeals, music, and the crackle of campfires.  It could also be a quiet place.  While I was there I had another rock to sit on.  This one dipped its stony toes in the water of the lake.  Every day I had twenty minutes or so to sit there and focus on the sound of water, the sound of my breath, the sound of my thoughts. 

A stillness abounds in this place.  

Then I had my quietest time.  Summer had ended but school was still a month away so I stayed on at Camp while everyone else went home.  I worked by myself all day.  I raked pine needles from trails.  I painted cabins.  I took down volleyball nets, stacked row boats, and organized life jackets.  It was solitary work and I can’t claim that it was always great, but I think I needed it.  At night I would slip into a canoe and paddle to the middle of the lake and let the breeze blow me around for a while.  I felt like I was right where I should be, doing everything I should be doing.

During one of those nights on the water a man who lived across the lake joined me outside.  I imagine he was looking for his own version of quiet.  He couldn't have known I was there in the middle of that small dark lake.  He couldn’t have known that when he pulled out his trumpet to play a song that he would have an audience.  He played Amazing Grace.  The notes came to me out of the darkness, over the water, and then they went through me.  I wanted to clap for him when the song ended but I didn't want to spoil the illusion.  I wanted to preserve the quiet that rushed in the moment the notes faded.

Life would never be so quiet again.

After college I lived my life as if quietness had never mattered to me.  Maybe I’d had my fill.  Maybe I was getting lazy and couldn't be bothered to seek it out.  Maybe I just didn't need it because my life felt grounded for a change.  I spent my time with friends.  We learned how to play pool and Golden Tee at the bar.  I spent a couple years splitting pizzas, electric bills, and the remote control with four other guys.  We were loud.  We were neighbors-calling-the-property-manager loud.  There was no room for quiet places.

Fizzie's was my bar.  It wasn't quiet but I spent a lot of time here with my friends.

But then I fell in love again and I married a woman who could be quiet with me.  We had a little girl.  And now here I am writing about quietness.  I spend 40 hours a week in an office.  I have to listen to other people’s music, other people’s phone conversations, other people’s whistling, toe-tapping, coughing, frustrated sighs when the copier jams, other people’s noise.  When I go home we play games, read books out loud, we pretend to be dragons and princesses and we scream when the dragon (usually played by me) roars.  These are good things.  I am lucky to have a job and I am blessed to have a family that roars and laughs.  But quietness is in short supply. 

So I garden.

My quiet corner garden.

I don't have a lake to go to and there are no woods nearby.  There is no basement in my little house.  I do have my own car, but I also have responsibilities that keep me from hopping into it and driving around all night.

So I garden.

A gift from my little girl.

And when I'm on my knees and my hands are in the ground it's as if I am praying again.  God, just let me keep what I have for as long as I can.  Let me keep this little garden.  Please let me keep this one quiet place.  Let me keep these people that mean so much to me and I promise I'll never ask for anything again.


  1. Spectacular view of the river area. And I love the birdhouse from your daughter.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. You made me cry...hold on tight; she'll be 18 before you know it. I have a feeling from the way you write, that you know this and will enjoy and appreciate every minute.

  3. You made me cry, too. I hope your prayers are answered.

  4. Chad, you have a wonderful way with words, reading your posts is pure pleasure.

    I am with you on the solitude, too; I am the old woman walking the fields and my little white pine woods alone here in the middle of the night. A throwback habit of what is left of the kid who hid from the violence at home and sought out the consolation of a solitary rock pile, of all things.

    I am so happy for you and how your life has come together, and send a wish for continued happiness to you and your lovely family.

  5. What a beautiful post. Quiet places are sacred, to be sure.

  6. From one dad who gardens and has young kids to another, damn, what a poignant post, thank you!

  7. Niccceeee. Many do not understand quietness. To be alone, to shut out the chaos of this world, and to listen to that still small voice.

  8. What a beautifully powerful piece. I completely understood and related to every word. Quiet. Silence. Golden.

  9. Being the sort of person I am, you'd think I wouldn't appreciate a serious post. You'd be wrong. This was awesome.

    The older I get, the more I seek out 'quiet'.

    When I was younger, I couldn't ride in the car without music blasting. I loved to be around crazy people, all the time.

    If you had known me 15 years ago, you would have seen a quiet, shy girl who had to surround herself with noise to feel like I was a part of 'life'.

    Now I can appreciate quiet. Sit there and be with my thoughts. I'm comfortable with myself now. I don't need all that extra 'noise' to be happy.

    I am the 'noise' most of the time lol.

  10. I got behind on following up with comments this week, but I wanted to let each of you know that I honestly appreciated your words and taking the time to write something. As always, I am humbled and grateful that people are willing to read my posts.

  11. I got behind on commenting.

    I read your post shortly after you posted it, and I was speechless (so I didn't comment right away). Just an absolutely beautiful post. I know you don't want your mom to see your blog, but I sure wish she could see this one. It's too good not to share. Brought tears to my eyes.

  12. Toni, thank you for saying that. Maybe I'll print it off and send it to my mom? It's funny, sharing things like this is usually easier for me when I'm sharing it with people that aren't related to me.

  13. Chad, I'm just finally getting caught up on favorite blogs, but I didn't want to let this beautiful post go by without a comment. Quiet is such an underrated pleasure in our world. I worry about people who always seem to be plugged in; when do they just let the quiet wash over them, bringing unexpected sensations, insights, and thoughts? Enjoy your quiet moments in the garden. -Jean

  14. Jean - I'm glad you are finding some quiet time of your own to catch up on your reading. Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. John Katz from has been writing about "unplugging" once a week as a sort of Sabbath day. I think this is probably a good idea especially for those of us who don't have quiet as a naturally occurring aspect of our lives. I think we really have to learn to be intentional about seeking the quiet.