By Kim Schmidt
I seek quiet so that I can hear my life better.
There are eight locations sprinkled throughout New York City’s Central Park that are designated as Quiet Zones. At Strawberry Fields or in Sheep Meadow you will not hear a dog bark or hear the slap of a foot against a soccer ball. You will not hear music at Bethesda Terrace or feel the breeze of a bicyclist as she speeds past you near the Shakespeare Garden. New York City is loud, but nestled in the middle of the madness, you can find relief.
If only my house were Central Park.
In my house, we live with the volume turned way up. I have four-year-old identical twins who create a cacophony of sound that ebbs and flows as the day grows old. I have a nine-year-old who has only one setting: TALK. I have a husband who snores. I have a full-time job on a busy college campus. I have a seventy-five-year-old house that talks back to me every time I step on her squeaky floor boards. There is no mute button.
Even my cat has a loud meow.
That is why every day I seek out quiet, like a traveler abandoned in the desert desperate for a drink. And I am desperate. After years of bringing my finger to my lips, shush-shush-shushing my way through the day, I am worn down. The formerly sharp edges of my brain have been dulled like rocks worn down by the flow of a river. Too often the noise of my life becomes background music and I lose the ability to hear the crisp tones.
I need to quiet my soul, but in this season of my life, with little people underfoot, I can’t seem to quiet my house. So I seek the quiet in unexpected places: I keep my bedroom curtains open, so when I wake in the middle of the night (which is nearly every night) I can watch the tree limbs sway in the light of the streetlamp as I listen to the soft rumblings of my family sleeping. Early in the morning I listen for the 6:00 a.m. whistle of the train that clicks its way through my college town like clockwork. During the day, amidst the laughter or the shrieking, for we have an equal amount of both, I seek out my own Strawberry Fields, even if it is five minutes alone in the car.
I seek quiet so that I can hear my life better. I need that void, that space empty of sound, so I can fully open my heart and my ears to the glorious sounds of a life lived at full volume. I want to collect the giggles and the lisps, the recitations of fairy dreams and wishes for puppies. I want to hear the rumble of six small feet chasing each other over worn hardwood floors, and even the inevitable crash of toes, knees, and elbows. And when they call for me, “Mama Mama Mama,” I want there to be stillness enough for them to hear my soft whispers of love in their ears.
Here I am, girls. I’m listening.
Kim Schmidt is a writer and mother of three planted firmly between the corn fields and the soy fields deep in the flyover. Her feature stories, book reviews, and essays have appeared in American Way Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Publishers Weekly and BookPage, among others.