We experienced a warming trend on the Oregon Coast this past week. Wherever you are, “warming,” or “cooling,” is a relative term. What we call “warming” here would be what most of the people I know would be calling “cooling.” Our county was under a heat advisory for several days, but I’m sure it was not for the part of the county directly next to the coast. On our warmest day we may have cracked 90 degrees. It certainly was cause for shorts and t-shirts. I even sweated outside, especially where my backpack rested on my back. But, the valley was experiencing temps around 110. The South had been experiencing similar temps with humidity on top of it. These temperatures are the warmest I’ve experienced this year, but to my body who remembers other places, this is late spring/early summer fare.
I have found myself at a deficit for stillness and quiet lately. Most people who know anything about me will quickly quip, Of course, you’ve got a baby now. Don’t expect that for a long time. I don’t really feel like Aura is much of the cause of this, though. I can fairly regularly find moments of quiet and stillness with her. It really has more to do with my state of mind. Probably the bigger hindrances are that I have wifi in my home, that I struggle with perfectionism, that I’m interested in a lot of things. These realities eat away at one’s ability just to sit and observe the world right in front of someone’s face. To look at the trees and the songbirds. To just let the brain rest and wander for a while, to not be solving something or processing something. I’m finding difficult to shut my brain down, even where the is time readily available for something like that.
Early in the week, I got to the dining hall as breakfast was beginning. The line of retreat guests had just formed, and I felt the urge to avoid the masses for just a few minutes. I got some hot tea and walked out to the meditation patio next to the lake, settling on the center bench. Breakfast on work days is truly the beginning of work for me, as the Camp Director. There are many mornings I’m not actually eating my breakfast until about 30-45 minutes after it’s initially served, because I’m intercepted by so many people on my way to the buffet line, then from the buffet line to the table. This is just what comes with the territory of being boss. Everyone has an agenda item they want taken care of before we get too far into the day. Some have been holding it in all night. Finally I’m here to do something about it. It’s understandable. Still if you are the person on the receiving end of that litany of requests, you have to prepare yourself. It doesn’t do to roll straight out of bed, show up at the dining hall, and expect to just eat your breakfast. You should get those moments of peace before you walk in the door, so you’re ready to greet the people who need you.
So, I took my morning requests to the shoreline next to the lake. I took them to my warm tea, let it give the answers to my taste buds. There was something in me that wanted to do something with the moment, wanted to draw some meaning, or create some sort of larger purpose out of it. I had to resist those urges. I prayed a little, but for the most part I tried to just get everything in me to be still. To get used to the new day and the morning. To soak in this view of a freshwater lake with a mountain behind it covered in evergreens. This is very helpful preparation for me in beginning a day. It helps to have these moments of quiet. It takes a conscious choice to make it happen, though.
On Wednesday (the day we were under a heat advisory) I opened all three windows in my office. The air was dry and warm. There was a light breeze. The air felt damn near perfect to me. For me, this is the type of summer air where you find a comfortable place on a porch in the shade, and you look out at great scenery with something nice to eat or drink. As I’ve become more and more about minimalism and saving resources, I’ve also grown to enjoy feeling a temperature indoors that matches the seasons outside. If it’s cold outside, I appreciate it a little chilly inside, where I might need to bundle up. If it’s hot outside, I like to sweat a little, to sleep with the covers pushed down. When it is a warm, dry day and I can hear the ocean in the background, I like to have the windows open and forget there are four walls surrounding me.
Several days this week, I have worked long hours, but I’ve also given Allyson breaks throughout the day, taking Aura. There are times she’ll sit in her little chair and look at the spinning plastic animals. Then, there are moments she will
be slung over my shoulder, dripping slobber down the back of my shirt as I punch away on the keyboard and answer phones. Then there are times when she gets cranky, I get her to go to sleep in my arms, and then I have to go out and greet a group. We had several retreat groups this week, and the time I was supposed to greet them and give our emergency information, I had a sleeping baby in my arms I didn’t dare disturb. So, I walked to meet the group and gave them the talk while bouncing and swaying with Aura draped across my arm.
This blending of work and fatherhood is something I’ve anticipated since it became a serious possibility we would have a child. I’ve thought a lot about how Aura should, from the beginning know my lifestyle and grow accustomed to it. I remember one Christmas when I was volunteering at a church’s free toy store for people who might not be able to provide presents for their children. There was another volunteer there who had her baby strapped to her chest as she led individuals around, helping them shop for their children, helping them have something that felt more like what we’d call a normal Christmas. At first, I thought how chaotic, cramped, and loud this place was to
have a baby with you. Then I thought of how that baby will grow up immersed in service to the poor and what affect that might have on her awareness of the world around her. I think a lot of the things I want Aura to grow up knowing, what will shape her from an early age. I hope she is absorbing our lifestyle of hospitality and community.
I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to throw the tennis ball with Digby lately. Diggs has put on some weight over the past year, and I think we can chalk some of it up to old age, but I do feel partially responsible. There was a time when I would take him out for fetch multiple times a day in a large area. I hiked several miles each day and he was with me. Now, some days, the most exercise he gets is going outside to pee. His lack of exercise springs from my lack of exercise these days. I am not hiking as much. I haven’t ran in quite some time. We are getting out of shape side by side. This goes hand in hand with need for stillness I discussed earlier. There is also a need for pure movement. Both the quiet and the movement have been much more present at other times in my life. With this too, I don’t think the baby has as much to do with it as many would assume.
At the end of one day this week, I could see the orange shade cast on the mountain to the east, signalling the sun was just before setting. Aura had just been put down to sleep, so I left out to catch it. Hope was returning keys and caught me just as I was going out. As we made it to the beach, the sun was just about halfway into the horizon. It looked like its shape was changing, blobbing down, changing to the shape of a hat with a round bill. I breathed in and exhaled. Hope needed to get back to her apartment–she was watching The Sandlot with the staff. I was already feeling like I needed to be doing something, taking care of something, being entertained, learning something, accomplishing something. This quiet, this pure movement I am seeking will take some practice to return to me as it has been in the past. It will take effort. It will take some consistency.