The stillness of the stone

“There’s something about the stillness of the stone,” my friend had said, understanding immediately my stammering explanation of why we’d bought the old place. She was just the sort of New Age friend who would say such a thing, so I ought not have been surprised. I was, though, just the same, surprised and pleased that she’d both understood and articulated it so perfectly. “Yes,” I’d replied, “I guess that’s it.”

It was a 250-year old Maryland farmhouse 20 miles from where we’d planned to move, not at all what we’d been looking for, and much more than we could handle. Too close to the road, too far from town, and much too much to manage. Nonetheless, we’d fallen in love, the house and I, as lovers often do: instantly, foolishly, irrevocably. My husband seemed to love the old house too, and I fancied that it was for some of the same reasons he loved me: she was an old girl, and had been through her share of storms. She sagged in places, and bore signs of wear, but she had survived, sturdy and strong. She couldn’t hold a candle to those younger homes with their flashy curb appeal and plumb corners. But she was sort of pretty in her own quirky way, and she seemed to have a great personality. She was probably fun at parties. Also, and importantly, she was available.

By the time we arrived in summer, she’d been alone several months and it showed. Acreage which had seemed a sanctuary had become a jungle. We got skinny that year, clearing out, fixing up, learning the rhythms of the old place, trying to convince her and ourselves that we were up to the task. We failed more days than not, dropping into bed with an exhaustion that four babies had not prepared us for. What had we gotten ourselves into? There was no respite at all that season, or the next, just constant movement, the motion of souls thrown together. Ever the femme fatale, enchantingly and intangibly more than the sum of her failings, and ours, the house sent us one challenge after another, as if to say, “You think I haven’t seen the likes of you before?”  The fact that we had, really and truly, moved from the Sunflower State made the tagline unavoidable:  We were so not in Kansas any more.

The rhythm of normal family life followed those first long and exhausting days; we settled into the comfortable familiarity of the old homestead, and learned to watch and listen for clues. There were six of us learning to ignore the creaks and whistles just as I had, in years of marriage, learned to ignore my husband’s snoring and he my nervous tapping. I’d been afraid we’d have mice, but I shouldn’t have worried: we had snakes instead. Despite warnings to the contrary, we were relieved to find no ghosts. Our children were coming to love the place too, alternately declaring their growing attachment to their “weird” house and complaining bitterly about the yard work, the old door latches which, unlike the doorknobs “regular” people had, could not hold their clothes, and the morning shock of the cold brick kitchen floor on their bare feet.

It was in that same kitchen, just one winter later, when I got the call. “It is breast cancer,” the caller said, and I felt the sturdy old brick floor disappear from under me. Holed up at home, I began to think about the women who’d come before me at this ancient place; one way or another, they must have received – not by phone perhaps, but surely by letter in delicate long hand, or the sight of a neighbor approaching grimly on horseback – news which had rocked them to their core. A child lost to illness, a sister in childbirth, a friend to a fever, a husband to war or to the farming field. There was nothing novel about this experience; I was part of an ancient sisterhood. I was not the first to grieve here, and I would not be the last.

I was reminded of what my friend had said. There was a stillness to those stones; there was something almost palpable about what they’d taken in over the many years. They changed their color with the morning rain, soaked up the afternoon sun and stored the heat. Could it be that those stones had absorbed, too, the strength and courage, the very energy of all of the women who had come before me? Perhaps it was still there, all around me, soaked in and stored up and shared for the asking. Maybe there were – maybe there always are – ghosts of the very best kind, silent and knowing soul sisters who would midwife me through.

I knew then why the stillness of the stone had spoken to me all along.

 

 

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