I’m moving back to where I started

img_20161017_094617032_hdr1Got your attention, didn’t I? Especially those church people who just panicked for fear I won’t be there to play the piano. No worries. I’m just moving down the hall.

You see, when my late husband’s Alzheimer’s got bad, I couldn’t sleep with him anymore. My insomnia and his hallucinations were a bad match. So, in November 2007, after nine years sharing the master bedroom, I moved into the guest room. I moved my furniture in there, bought new linens, and decorated the room in bright oranges, reds and yellows, anchored in brown. Warm colors. My colors. I hung my crucifix over the bed, something I had not done before because Fred was not Catholic. I filled the closet and drawers with my stuff. After Fred moved to the nursing home, I stayed in the guest room and filled his closet with suitcases, memories and empty hangers. It was cold in there, farthest from the pellet stove. Some of his shoes and ties had mildewed. I threw them away.

After Fred died, I hung his photo  from the funeral above his nightstand. I set up a little shrine with my Lady of Fatima statue, a prayer book, a candle and our matching wedding rings.

I only entered that room to pack for trips and to get to the bathtub in the master bathroom. I tried sleeping there a couple times, but the memories made me weep. That was OUR bed, OUR room. Fred slept beside me with our old dog Sadie at the foot of the bed. I couldn’t do it.

My bedroom, the former guest room, was a busy place. I not only slept and dressed there–wary of the neighbors who might see me through the street-facing window–but watched TV, paid bills, read, wrote, sewed and played music. Something loud was always on–TV, radio, cell phone with its games, music, texts and occasional calls. It simply got too loud in there. I couldn’t sleep.

My bed, purchased cheap, had sunk down on the side where I slept. I flipped it over and wore another trough into the other side. With my restless legs, I rubbed holes in all my fitted sheets, so I turned them upside down, too. Eventually I bought another set.

Light was a problem in the guest room. The street lamp pushed through the blinds and lace curtains. The moon, when it was full, shone in like a spotlight. Adding to the light show were the red numbers on my clock radio and the yellow and green lights on the Wi-Fi box.

In contrast, the master bedroom started calling out to me as a quiet oasis in cool whites and pastels. No electronics. No phone. Firm queen-sized bed. Because it was at the back of the house, no lights intruded, just the darkness of the woods.

Over the nine years that have passed since I moved out of the guest room, I have offered the master bedroom and bathroom to my dad who always declined, to guests who chose hotels, and to other guests who never come. I have considered renting out the room, but I want my bathtub and my privacy. I have never liked to share. I’m also afraid of who I’d get.

Now I think the room was waiting for me to come back. The memories are still there, but they are often sweet. I remember snuggling in that bed after making love. I remember times when Fred and I shut ourselves in there away from guests, feeling safe and happy together.

It’s time. No one else is taking that room, so I’m taking it back, making it my room, moving as few of my things as possible. I want to keep the volume down. No more red numbers screaming the time. No more reaching to turn on NPR news in the middle of the night or checking my phone the second I wake up. Just sleep. If I can’t sleep, I’ll take a bubble bath or read a book.

I’m still transferring stuff. The stacked-up boxes in the picture all hold quilt fabric, which I plan to use now that my sewing machine has been relocated to the former guest room.  Annie discovered my new hangout last night. Frightened by thunder and lightning, she decided she had to sleep with me. It was nice. New dog, new start.

 

Can you find one square inch of quiet?

I’m spoiled. The place where I live is quiet. Sitting in my back yard, I hear mostly birds and the wind. Occasionally a plane or helicopter flies over from the small airport a half mile south, and sometimes I hear a truck gearing up on Highway 101. Sometimes the ocean whispers and sometimes it roars, but overall it feels quiet. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t hear as well as I used to. As noted in earlier posts, I have a measurable hearing loss typical of people my age. But in my yard, I can almost hear the quiet.

Gordon Hempton, author of a wonderful book called One Square Inch of Silence, would disagree. He would say it’s pretty good, but it’s not truly quiet here in South Beach. If he measured the sound levels here, he’d probably come up with about 35 decibels coming from cars, waves, and miscellaneous mechanical sounds that I don’t notice. When a helicopter passes over, it would go up to about 90. Wherever we live, we become accustomed to a certain level of noise: cars, lawnmowers, TVs, appliances, dogs barking, people talking, and so much more. Some of us even become uncomfortable if it’s too quiet. We reach for our iPods or turn on the TV. I confess that sometimes I sleep with the radio on.

Gordon Hempton specializes in sounds. He makes his living mostly from making and selling recordings of birds, beaches, and train whistles. But his favorite sound is no sound at all. He prefers quiet, quiet enough to hear your own footsteps or the chorus of birds that greets the new day. But quiet is hard to find. Even places billed as quiet are filled with the noise of cars, planes, trains, and people. He’s on a mission to set aside one square inch of silence in Washington’s Olympic National Park, making it a place where people don’t speak and planes don’t fly over. As part of that mission, he drove across the country to Washington, D.C. in a VW bus, measuring sounds in cities, parks and wilderness areas. His book is the story of that journey. I found the book fascinating and enjoyed the way the science is folded into an engaging story. I also learned a great deal about sound.

Did you ever think about the fact that our hearing is designed to keep us safe, that most animals depend on their ability to hear predators coming so they can react to protect themselves. Animals won’t nest where it’s too noisy because they can’t hear, Hempton says. For us people, that might mean hearing a car coming so we don’t get run over, hearing a rattlesnake before we step on it, or hearing someone knocking on the door. We need to be able to hear a baby cry or a loved one shout for help. We need to hear each other in order to communicate. Hempton says we don’t have “ear lids” because we need to be able to hear all the time.

But it’s getting to be so noisy we can’t be sure we’ll hear anything. On his travels, Hempton visited a symphony hall, the Indianapolis speedway, and a basketball game. All were so loud it was nearly impossible to converse and the sound levels were high enough to cause damage to people’s hearing. Even in many of the restaurants he visited, it was too loud to talk. The roar of conversation, kitchen noises and Muzak added up to an audio attack. Even in places where people assured him it would be quiet, places like national parks and areas deep in the wilderness, Hempton found planes flying overhead every few minutes and power plants roaring 24/7.

All of this makes me glad to live where it is relatively quiet. Of course, there’s a price to pay. Mid-morning on my street, I’m the only human around. It gets lonely. At my desk, I hear a hum from the refrigerator, I hear my computer keys clacking, I just heard a fly bounce off the window. If I pay attention, I can hear myself breathing. But as soon as I get in my car, I turn on the radio as I ease into a world of noise, a world where quiet is becoming harder every day to find.

Find out more about Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence campaign and watch a video at his website, onesquareinch.org.

I found a free app for my phone that measures sound. It rates the sound here in my office right now as a whisper. Is it quiet where you are? What kind of noises surround you? Do you notice them most of the time? Let’s talk about it in the comments. Quietly.