Our daughter Katie is graduating from high school in a few short weeks. I am already anticipating how quickly the summer will pass, a blur of “last moments” before leaving for college in the fall. The ache is sharp in my throat as I write this, my body communicating the painful reality that my words name. Too soon, our home will be very quiet.
As I prepare myself for this leaving, I find memories playing in a jumbled sequence of pictures in my mind. I see Katie as a baby, standing happily in her crib, babbling to her brothers as they sing to entertain her. I hear her infectious laughter as she pesters her dad, teasing him relentlessly, somehow reading when he most needs a break from being serious. I hear her chattering away in the back seat of the car on the way home from elementary school, eager to fill me in on her day. Some days, my mind was full, and I felt incapable of taking in all the details she was laying out in such exquisite detail. I remember saying, “I really want to hear about this, and I’m having a hard time – can you try to summarize for me?”
One of my most favorite memories with Katie illustrates the tension between the quiet I crave as a very auditory-sensitive introvert and the delight I take in the running commentary that is so much a part of who she is. Our family was on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of vacation (thanks to Chris’ travel for work) in Great Britain. We’d spent days touring ancient castles in Wales, our children delighting in the history, letting their imaginations run wild with tales of medieval knights stationed behind the stone parapets, defending against foreign invaders. On one particularly clear day, we followed a recommendation from our friendly innkeepers and set out on a hike up Mount Snowdon.
The boys were eager to prove their climbing skills, veering off the path to scramble over boulders instead. I sent Chris on ahead to keep up with them, settling on a quieter hike for Katie and myself. Except for the quiet part. Katie proceeded to talk as we made our way up the gently sloping path, recounting highlights from the trip so far, asking questions about what we were seeing and when we would get to the top, making up stories from her active imagination. It took us three hours to climb to the top, and I don’t think she stopped talking the whole way. In fact, I remember at one point, stopping and saying, “you know we don’t have to talk the whole time, we could just enjoy the quiet for a while.” She paused just long enough to reply, “Why would we want to do that?” Why indeed?
It was another three hours down the mountain, this time all of us listening as Katie continued her running commentary. Halfway down she lost a tooth, prompting curiosity about the British tooth fairy, and whether she would bring dollars or pounds. That day is etched clearly in my mind, an early picture of the person our daughter would become: a lover of words and story, connected through her words to the people and places around her. It is a picture we all hold in our family – the memories of the tales she has spun on travels over the years are recounted with fondness.
I find myself holding these memories with ambivalence. I am aware of how long it took me to finally bless my need for quiet, to have kindness for the part of me that shuts down when over-stimulated. At the same time, I feel regret inching its way in, whispering that I should have paid closer attention, heard every single word, because soon my chance to listen will be over. As I ponder this next transition, the reality is that the quiet I have so craved and learned to carve out for myself as part of good self-care is also disruptive and unsettling, because it reminds me of what no longer is. Everyday life in our home is no longer loud. My grief feels heavy in this space, making it difficult to separate the life-giving quiet from the one filled with doubt.
And I realize that the quiet doesn’t change, producing rest or despair – how I hold it does.
And so I am returning once again to what feels like the theme of my life right now – considering how I hold things – memories, relationships, current experiences. Do I hold them with kindness and grace, or judgment and accusation? The harsh and loud inner critic in me grew in an environment that taught me I was always on trial, being judged as right or wrong. And so my transformational work right now is centered on quieting that critic. While I would like to get rid of it all together, my counselor has assured me acceptance will more likely produce the quiet I so desire.
And so this weekend, as I snap pictures of Katie and her friends dressed up for Senior Prom, I intend to hold that moment with kindness, another to add to the treasure trove in my heart that I can pull out in the quiet when she is gone – goodness and grief held side by side, bound together by love – knowing I can rest in the quiet filled with love.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.