THE SILENCE OF SILENCE
Began writing memoir11/21/1977 Edited 3/2007
It was winter, February to be exact–those gray days before March winds appear to scatter the gloomy clouds. The cold gray of February that blocked the sun, also blocked my mind from bright thoughts.
“Youre near exhaustion mentally and physically,” Dr. Trimborne explained. Ive been your family doctor long enough to know you need a rest before you have a nervous breakdown, and believe me you are just that close,” he said pinching his index finger and thumb together.
“You cant go through a divorce, work 16 hours a day, take care of three little girls, and run a household without wearing down. An extended weekend away from everyone and everything is what you need. If you dont do this for yourself now, I predict youll wind up in the hospital. And,” he continued, ” I strongly suggest you go alone or youll be trapped in the same mouse maze you’re in now…trying to do everything for everyone.”
I was thinking about how emphatic Doc was about going alone, as I pondered over a soap bubble that slid off the dish I held. Perhaps, I thought, I could go to the lake Thursday and stay for a few days. No, how can I do that? Ive never driven the car that far alone, and Ive never been to the lake alone. Besides, its winter and the cottage has been winterized.
Another bubble floated off into space. Still, it really wouldnt be too costly. I could close the doors to several rooms, and with the oil heater and fireplace, I just might get by. Yet, theres the drive up there. Its 120 miles. Ive never driven that far in my life, not to mention–drive alone. A sharp pang hit the middle of my chest and quickly found its way to my stomach, gripping it fiercely…fear.
“Breathe deep, let it out slowly, isnt that what Doc said, when these little attacks grip you. Stop thinking negatively and try new things. Look forward to the joy of experiencing something new.” were his words of encouragement. The pang eased, and with it my reluctance and fright.
Could I really do this alone? Doc seemed to think so and hes been helpful so far, why not give it a try?”
I decided to leave Thursday morning. My suitcase was packed and the children were scheduled to be picked up after school. All arrangements had been made, it was too late to turn back now.
The morning was gray like all the others, but the temperature had climbed to 34 degrees. It was almost a heat wave for Wisconsin. I took one last look at the house as I backed out of the driveway and almost decided to stay home, but something headed me down the street and out towards the main highway going north.
I felt so alone and frightened driving 45 miles an hour, while cars passed me doing the speed limit. Mile after mile, I chugged along and suddenly it seemed the more I drove the braver I became, and pushed the accelerator to a steady 55. I remembered what Doc had told me, “its as you learn to do things on your own, you begin to build an inner confidence that will lead you to a better understanding of yourself.” Fortifying myself with this thought, I said a little prayer that I would be able to do the task I had set for myself.
Soon I became accustomed to the pace of cars passing me and they no longer bothered me. For the first time in my life I realized that driving a long distance alone could be relaxing. It gave me a chance to think, to talk to myself out loud, and to sing out loud. All new experiences that I found deliciously freeing. No mother to coddle me, which was nice when the chips were down. No husband to answer to–gone for good leaving me hurdles to climb over. No children to care for, 10, 8, and 6 which were a handful. No, job to worry about. For four days, there was only me. Me meeting me for the first time in my life at the age of 30.
An hour and a half seemed to fly, and soon I was turning off the main highway onto the county road. There were very few cars on the two lane road as I found myself enjoying my own company and new-found self more and more. The scenery had changed as farms stretched from barn to barn and here and there a stand of fir trees stood like sentinels who so dutifully held their post, they dare not brush the snow from their limbs. How like me they seemed, I had become so rigid in my daily patterns of thinking, I neglected to brush the snow out of my head. That must be whats been happening to me. I had become verbally abused having been brow-beaten by life and a ‘mental schitsophrenic’ husband, that I neglected to let the sun shine in.
My mind meandered along, as did the roadway. I thought of when I was a teenager, and taught Sunday School. One lesson I tried to impart to those fifth graders was the gift of being thankful for Gods beautiful creation. How soon we forget, chastising myself, for the many times in recent years I forgot to give thanks for the many blessings that were in my life. Yes, there were blessings. I had excused myself by thinking I was too busy trying to make a living to take time for giving thanks.
The sign indicated that Weyauwega was just ahead. I turned to the right and headed up the hill leading to town. Barely had I hit the top of the hill, when I saw the church steeple with its cross on top. At that instant there seemed to be a slight break in the overcast sky and a defused ray of sunlight caught the cross. It seemed to convey to me that all was well and I need not fear. God, assuring me his ever-present love and guidance was there for me if I would ask.
I stopped in town and picked up a few food supplies, some fuel oil for the heater and headed for the lake. Fortunately, there had been a warming trend for the rutted lane leading to the cottage was fairly free of snow. I had arrived. I was safe and I had had a marvelous time. I had done something alone. That accomplishment was one huge hurdle leaped over. Now to master opening the cottage and staying there alone for three nights.
The cold and dampness of a locked for winter summer cottage hit me when I unlocked and opened the kitchen door. Even the linoleum seemed to scream in pain as I stepped on it. A shudder ran through me and that old fear began to creep back to the pit of my stomach. “Why had I come? What lesson was to be learned by being alone? If I had an ounce of brain, Id go back, but it would take too long to drive back and it gets dark early. Panic thoughts raced through my head, yet my feet propelled me to pull up shades letting the darkness out along with the dark thoughts.
There is no one but you and God, kept repeating over and over in my mind. Since God will not bring in the groceries, fuel oil, or wood for the fire place, then its up to you. I checked the fuse box and turned it on. The kitchen light worked. I plugged in the refrigerator and the electric stove–they worked. So far so good. Starting the oil stove was next. Twenty gallons of fuel oil is no picnic to lift and pour into the stove tank, but somehow, my partner, God and I did it. Then I was reminded to check the inside burner before lighting it, to assure it was clean and the lines not blocked. Checked, but matches are needed, I didn’t smoke. Oh, in the jar over the sink, so the mice would not chew on them and possibly start a fire. A little puff and the burner was lit. “Gee, God, we seem to be progressing rather well.” I heard my own voice echo back at me as if hearing it for the first time.
There were two logs in the basket next to the fire place, “now you know thatll not be enough wood for three nights.” Checking the wood pile outside, I found some small chunks and began to split them. The clean air of the north woods was exhilarating and chopping did not seem a chore. The winter wind had knocked down plenty of branches from the old oaks, so I gathered them to use as kindling. Blow by blow, I split logs until I had enough wood to last for at least two nights. If more was needed it could wait. My arms were tired from wielding the axe. Good thing oak burns slowly, I thought. Arm load by arm load I carried the wood to the porch. Standing back, I had to admire what I had just done.
When I opened the kitchen door, I could tell the oil stove was doing its work, as the cold dampness had changed to an inviting warmth. Closing off the French doors to the front porch, along with closing the bedroom doors, helped a great deal. It was almost beginning to feel cozy.
My next thought, “Will I have water?” The small jug of water I brought along had just enough in it to, hopefully, prime the old kitchen pump on the sink. Would it work? Oh, yes, hooray, Ill have water, albeit, very cold from the well, but the kitchen stove could heat what I would need. “Well, now God, we seem to have done quite nicely,” I smiled to myself.
One more job to do. Light the fire place. There must be some newspaper around here. I found some on the back porch and before long, my Girl Scout training had paid off. I had a fire.
Now, as long as Im up here, I better check to see if the house had sustained any winter damage. Walking around outside, nothing seemed amiss. How different, I thought, looking out over the lake, the silence of winter is than the exuberance of summer. The snow covered lake seemed twice as large. The trees were barren, the houses along the opposite shore were eerily silent as if frozen in a time warp waiting for the miracle of spring to liven them up again. I could smell the smoke of the fireplace from the chimney, and an uneasiness began to creep into my thoughts. Here I am thoroughly alone. Town is seven miles away. What if there was a fire, what if bears came up to the house, what if, what if, STOP. Stop the what ifs. Early evening was changing the gray daylight to a dusky darkness as I walked in the back door into the warmth of the kitchen and beyond to the cheery crackle of the fireplace.
I warmed a can of soup and made a sandwich. This was supper. Then I sat in the fireplace chair. There was no overhead light in the living room, and the only lamp had a burnt out bulb. The radio was broke, and television was unheard of at a lake cottage. There was just me and me and I guess God, my silent partner.
I walked around the living room and pulled the shades down, why I dont know. There was no one around to see me, probably the force of an old habit. I looked for a book to read by the firelight, but there was none. I was alone, completely and utterly alone. Alone with me and my thoughts.
The only light came from the fireplace. The only noise came from the fireplace. And the darkness closed in on me. Is this what Doc wanted me to experience? That there are many things one can do alone without the help of anyone? That we have greater strengths within us than we realize? That when push come to shove, we can do what must be done? That necessity brings out the best in us? But what about fear of failing? What about fear of not being loved or cared for? What about fear of being hurt? What about fear of the darkness and fear of silence?
An ember glowed ever so faintly. I could hardly see it. The darkness had completely surrounded me and the silence was dreadful. The silence was painful. The silence was a black abyss. It was ever so dark as I sat listening to the silence of silence.
Did you know you could hear the silence of silence? Its a chasm where all of us must travel to discover our inner self. Its frightening to think about, because we are afraid to go to that deep within ourselves. We are afraid of what we might see that deep. We seem to feel we need someone or something to buoy us up. It doesnt work that way, for once you have listened to the silence of silence and met yourself there, you can never be afraid again. Never.
For all of my outside praying to boost my wavering thoughts, aprehensions, and fears, it took listening to the silence of silence to realize that is where my soul, the very depth of me meets God. That is where God is, always has been, and ever will be. “Be still, and know that I am God,”* a passage from my Sunday School teaching days lulled me to sleep.
Now as I look back after forty plus years, I can see how much I learned about myself, how great and beautifully made my body is, and how unique my mind is. However, the most important thing I learned in the silence of silence…I found God within and was healed in a miraculous and wonderous way. What blessings of healing mind, body, and spirit come from being willing to go the distance and commune in the silence of silence.
*The New Rivised St. James Version: Psalm 46:10