11 years ago I was living and working in Minneapolis. I had a little apartment and a little dog. I was teaching music to kids during the day, and scrounging up my courage to take my guitar out and play my tentative folk songs for strangers in the evenings.
I didn't mind living in Minneapolis. I liked my little apartment with its burnished wood floors, and dark, walnut woodwork. But on my birthday that year I drove out of the city to walk alone in the forest. On a page from my journal dated that day, I taped two pale leaves, winnowed down to stem and veins, soft as silk, and delicate as a moth's wings. Next to them I wrote: "I want more of this, and less of everything else."
What did I want exactly? I am not sure I knew even then, but I remember the longing well, and I can describe it, though only in metaphor. To put it simply, I wanted the world to get so wide, and so quiet, I could hear everything I needed to know in the silence.
Today I am 37 years old. I have that big quiet now. Not all the time, mind you, but it lives to the north and east of me, so I visit it almost every day. The decade that has past since I found those leaves was a long one, but all things considered, a decade searching for the big quiet is a decade well spent, and in the overarching framework of things, isn't very long at all.
And it isn't the only wish that has been granted. Even as I write this, I can feel the lively flutters of a baby that is growing bigger and stronger every day, and will be ready in a few more months to meet the world. We call him the little bean sprout, but he is more like a fish, stirring up a current, then falling asleep, lulled by the gentle waves. Somedays he likes to swim to the edge of the water and push, push, push; other days he is content to simply paddle in place. No one ever told me how like a fish bowl I'd feel, my skin and bones the boundary of his small ocean. No one ever told me because, really, it is too strange and spectacular to explain.
So I am 37, which seems old to be doing this sort of thing for the first time, but is the youngest I'll ever be again. I am, very, very, thankfully an official member of the better late than never club.
Sometimes it feels scary -- to be inexperienced and tender again, and in my fear, I forget to listen for the big quiet. Thank goodness the sparrows come to sing at my windows, and the wind comes to sigh around the corners of my house -- they remind me to stop, to go outside, to drop down into the deep cavern of stillness. Into my own round breath, into my own small song.
I think about the little bean sprout, swimming and sleeping and waiting. I think about how much I longed to be a mother, to have a child of my own. How I feared it would never happen for me, and how it hurt, and kept hurting, and seemed like it would never end. It was like mourning in reverse, the heavy sadness of missing someone who had never been born. But what if my wish had been granted sooner? What if a baby had come to me before I learned how to listen so well? Before I learned to walk toward the peace the world makes when we remember we were all little seedlings once, and someday, we will all become the beautiful shadows of winter worn leaves.