Through and through, I am a creature of habit. My planner is the most important purchase of the year and I thrive off my Sunday night organization session where I outline my upcoming week in multi-colored pens. I have certain habits for grocery shopping and laundry and when I like to study foreign languages.
These routines, much like running and writing, keep me grounded and focused. But at some point, routines can become too much. It isn’t until you’ve stepped outside of yourself for a day or a week that you notice how much you’ve missed. You know that feeling of taking a long weekend trip? Suddenly, Saturday seems to last forever as you forget about buying bananas and bread and focus on enjoying wherever you are.
All this is to say that while I appreciate some of the structures I’ve given my life, I can’t help but wonder what’s just outside the box. The new idea for Sunday blog posts is to write about one experience I had in the previous week that was out of routine, that wasn’t predictable, that made me think a little differently about myself and the world I live in.
Challenge 22: Embrace the Quiet
I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, where summer is book-ended by campfire and the most romantic thing I could imagine was laying on a blanket beneath the stars. I grew up driving back country roads with more wildlife than automobiles. Sunsets on the back porch turned into blankets of pure night and every evening I fell asleep to the sound of… nothing.
I’ve lived in Manhattan for two and a half years now and needless to say it’s a little bit different. To be clear: I don’t live in Times Square. My neighbor isn’t a raucous, swirling concoction of advertisements and dancing cowboys. My Manhattan is uptown, quieter, and far more family focused.
Regardless, I still live in a big city. I still live on the same block as the train in an apartment complex that has people coming and going throughout the day or night and an apartment unit with four roommates. For the past two and a half years, I’ve lived in a city where the street lights dance across my floor through my cracked curtains at every hour of the day.
Each summer, I return to Western Pennsylvania for a week to be a counselor at a leadership camp called RYLA. Before the campers move in on Sunday, the counselors have a quick weekend of training and preparing for the week. All this is to say that on Friday and Saturday, there are about a dozen people in the college residence hall that we occupy. And all of that is to say that it’s really freaking quiet.
And it’s weird. And I’m not used to it. And it makes me strangely uneasy. And I find myself pacing around my single bedroom wondering how any place in the world can possibly be this dark or this quiet.
When I came back for camp for the first time after moving to New York City, my Pennsylvania friends and family joked that it would be too quiet for me here. I told them I grew up where the cornfield meets the sled hill, climbing trees and dancing through games of Capture the Flag until our knees were green with the promise of a well-played summer day.
But then I came back. And then I realized I wasn’t used to this kind of silence or this kind of darkness. And I wonder if I fear these things so much because they take me into an unknown part of myself.
I laid in my bed the first night, watching the minute hand spin on my watch and fully aware that I should darken the fluorescent light above me. I had no reason whatsoever to feel uneasy and I was fully aware of that. But it was different. And sometimes different is hard.
Of course, the environmentally friendly side of me won and I turned off the light, took a deep breathe, and sat in the silence until I fell asleep.
Sometimes different is hard. Sometimes different is scary. But that doesn’t mean you run away from a thing. And that definitely does not mean you give up before you begin. Whatever your silence is, step toward it, not away.