They were old, and only two of them had screens. And after a spastic bird bolted down our chimney, popped out of the fireplace and started flapping around the living room one February afternoon, we could never quite get over our fears of what might fly in through an open window.
Our new house has lots of windows and lots of screens, and our six-year-old daughter makes it her personal mission to let in as much fresh air as possible. I’m starting to enjoy that.
Just the other night, I was sitting in our family room with all three windows wide open. It was dark outside and pretty quiet, except for the rumbling of kids shouting insults back and forth upstairs.
A breeze wafted through the backyard, insects chattered, somewhere down the street a car door slammed. The calming sounds and scents of late springtime nights took me back to my parents’ screened porch growing up, where I’d rock lazily on the swing or read with my feet propped up on the brick wall – and which, after so many years of living with the windows shut, I missed more than I ever realized.
I’ve talked on many occasions with an uncle who is a Catholic priest about the struggles and false starts we face in finding our callings, how we often miss the hints and whispers that might just get us on the right track. The world is noisier and more distracting than ever, and that’s definitely part of the problem.
But the challenge also goes deeper than mere commotion and our ability to filter it. It’s also about our lost capacity for listening.
I like to get things done, and pride myself on efficiency and productivity. When you have a young family and two working parents, you have to be ruthless in blocking out distractions if you want to do more than spin your wheels. And my own ruthlessness with time has made possible a satisfying career, close involvement with my family, the writing of a book and the maintenance of a mediocre tennis game.
But there’s also a price for being hyper-focused. It sometimes feels like my life is a little too tightly sealed, like I’ve left no room to hear the unexpected. For a writer or anyone who relies on messy thoughts and ideas for a living, that’s not what you want. It was, after all, the many hours spent lazing around on my parents’ porch with books that nudged me toward a writing career.
You want those surprising gifts – the sudden bolts of insight and startling clues, the slowly unfolding notions that might just lead somewhere.
So lately, I’ve been blogging less and reading more, sometimes sitting in silence doing nothing at all, rolling down the windows in my car and turning off the radio.
At the end of the day, it’s a little tougher to count up my achievements. The good news is they also seem to matter less.