Living in a Quiet Place

August 27, 2004

I’ve been eating at the Subway near my office once a week for about five years now. I don’t always get the same sandwich, but nearly always. Today I got a turkey and ham, though usually I get a plain turkey.

If that sounds boring, well, it is. But I’ve found that while I’m always interested in new ideas in art, music, philosophy, etc., and I’m fascinated with new people, places and events, the truth is I’m happy with rut-like routines for the more mechanical aspects of day to day living.

With respect to wardrobe, I am far from a “dandy,” though I try not to be slovenly or wear clothes too far out of style. Occasionally at the office we have a “casual day,” which I usually opt out of. I have a good standard set of boring work clothes–khakis, black slacks, oxfords, and polo shirts from the local mid-value retailer–and the effort required to think up something more “casual” to wear (but not too casual) sort of negates any pleasure I might have in wearing jeans or shorts to work. Plus, I don’t even have that many casual clothes, so I don’t want to “use them up” before the weekend arrives. The whole thing just screws up my monk-like routine.

My last car was an Acura, but it got pretty old, so I traded it in–for another Acura. Hey, they’re just good cars.

It’s simple living, and I no longer find simple to be synonymous with bland or commonplace. Quite the contrary: as the whole population seems to strive for a life of some deeper significance, I accept life as inherently significant, and life’s simple acts as acts of faith in that belief.

My weekdays are filled with routine, though I like to break things up on the weekends. I’m happy to work, come home, work out or mow the lawn if it needs it, read the paper, eat dinner, walk the dog and read to my daughter with my wife, watch TV for an hour, and then hit the sack, where I sleep quite soundly. I look forward to each familiar component of these evenings as others might look forward to a coming change. There is a quietness to these days, a rhythm that is in tune with my life’s rhythm, at least for now. My earlier life was so frenetic, unpredictable, often dangerous. I’m happy to be in this new stage, one where I might plan a long-term personal project without the need for a deadline. I can plant a tree, and say to myself in earnest, “Well, that will be looking just great in about five years or so.”

I can still contemplate the old days, the lessons they taught me. This old life lives on in my mind, a spirit life of some lone gypsy obsessed with finding meaning, searching for people who knew about living, expecting to find significance lurking nearby like a wino in an alley. He eventually stopped wandering and found meaning–in a child’s eyes, a swept porch, a Saturday morning kiss, a dog’s soft ear, a garden of wild lilacs and daisies. The necessary thing was to stop looking.

And now, waves of meaning wash over each morning shave and mirror stare. Who am I today? How will I change to face events, and how will events change me without my knowing? How far away am I from that naïve child who felt so apart from everyone else? How much closer am I now, and will I move closer still, to those I love?

It is the exquisite, almost painful beauty of the world as seen from a quiet place, with room and time to observe the day’s passing, that I crave. And I find it so often, I am approaching a contentment I never knew was possible.

I wrote a bad poem some time ago, about the sun as an indifferent ball of fire careening dumbly through space. I thought it was a poem about alienation and the loss of significance in the face of the death of God, etc.–a riff on the current Zeitgeist. Now I know it was just a poem about loneliness. And that’s what most angst must be about. The inability, if even for a while, to move from separate lonely spaces to a common warm, quiet place of belonging and acceptance. To come home.

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