Listening to the Stillness

Feeling restless, I looked around at my bedroom. There was nothing to do here, or at any rate, nothing that I was interested in doing. So I headed downstairs. From the stairwell I heard Bing Crosby singing the “Little Drummer Boy on Mom’s ever-playing kitchen radio.

The song served as another reminder that we didn’t have our Christmas tree up yet. Mom never allowed it to be put up until the afternoon of December 24th. All my eighth-grade classmates at school had theirs up already.

Huffing impatiently, I grumbled to myself, “No one’s even gone to the woods to get our tree yet!” Just as I expected, the kitchen was empty. Since it was laundry day, Mom was in the basement using the wringer washer. Daddy and Billy were in the barn doing chores.

Cutting a slice of bread and buttering it, I went to sit on the basement steps to eat. Mom looked up at me just as she was about to begin feeding wet, soapy clothing to the wringer. She said, “Where have you been hiding? I haven’t seen much of you today.”

I merely grunted while shoving a big, buttery bite of bread into my mouth. The clean, wet smell of laundry detergent reached me as the rollers delivered flattened shirts and towels to the rinse water basin. I knew well Mom’s laundry routine. The rinsed laundry would be fed to the wringers one more time before being hung on the backyard clothes lines.

Mom put another load of clothing into the washing machine where they could agitate while she wrung out the rinsed clothing. As she worked, she said, “After the chores are done, Billy plans to go down to the swamp to cut down our tree. Did you want to go with him?”

I squealed with joy and dashed off to put on winter clothing. While waiting for my brother to finish chores, I wandered around the yard. The sky was heavy with clouds, so the orchard looked dreary with very little snow on the ground. Walking to the swamp would be easier, but I wished for Christmas snow anyway.

Billy spotted me the minute he stepped out of the barn with saw in hand. Smiling, he called, “You ready to go?” I nodded and followed him down the cow lane to the farm’s back forty.

We made small talk as we walked. Billy explained how he had tied a strip of red handkerchief on a tree he had liked during the summer. Half way there, he suddenly stopped, commanding, “Listen to the stillness.”

Holding my frosty breath, I heard a distant train rumbling through Stratford and roaring trucks on the highway. Taking a small breath, I smelled the Mosinee paper mill miles east of us. Billy said, “It’s going to snow today. Sounds carry when the world becomes silent before a snowfall.”

Billy didn’t stop to listen often, but through the years I loved these pauses when he did. They always gave me an increased awareness and appreciation for the world around me.

A year before Billy passed away, I picked him up from his Assisted Living home for a clinic appointment. As we got out of the car on our return to the home, he suddenly stopped and insisted, “Listen to the stillness.”

Sweet memories washed over me as I stood quietly listening to distant traffic. “It’s going to snow.” I murmured softly. My brother nodded as I took his arm to guide him inside.

One-night recently, I arrived home after dark feeling hurried. Thinking about Christmas preparations I needed to do, I gathered my parcels from the car and scurried toward the house. Suddenly, something told me to stop and listen to the stillness. Tipping my head back I discovered glittering stars in the sky, an airplane full of travelers winking from one frosty horizon to another. In the distance I heard a train rumbling and the murmur of highway traffic. Feeling totally refreshed, I slowly walked into the house.

At Christmas time we sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” a definite call to stop and listen. I wonder if, when we leave this life, God greets us by asking, “How many times did you stop and listen to the stillness?”




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