Lessons from winter

Can I weave a nest for silence,
weave it of listening,
layer upon layer?

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question”

I told you once, there are four of us Backyard Sisters.  Today’s post comes from the eldest,  Theresa, prompted by a telephone conversation.


“I drove in the dead winter,” she tells me one day.  “From Des Moines to Minneapolis. And it was darker than dark except for headlights on the highway. And I thought of letters flying through cyberspace, of too many words, like those headlights.


“And I thought of a poem by May Sarton.  Then I wrote this for you.”

Theresa’s my hero. She finds a way to quietly approach life, to focus as if each moment, each person, each word matters.  I’m happy to share my big sister with you.  Here’s Theresa…


“words once spoken, can tear down or build up – but can never be destroyed.”

I wrote that when I was 14 or 15 years old, probably after an angst-producing adolescent moment – and I still think about words a lot.


This 27 ft x 17 ft sculpture, Nomade, is by Jaume Plensa, who “envisioned the letters as building blocks for words and ideas, in the same way human cells form tissues, organs and bodies.”  It sits in Des Moines’ outdoor sculpture park.

DSCN0865I too believe that words and ideas form us in the same way our cells give us shape and I believe that we are all the better that words can’t be destroyed or we would have lost our earliest stories.

But one must first become small,

nothing but a presence,

attentive as a nesting bird,

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question

I also think about how today thoughts can be casually dispatched as quickly as you can type and in a split second be launched at someone or some group and preserved forever in our digital minds.

I picture cyberspace as the darkest of nights, illuminated by flashing lights like lightening bugs and trailing comets, letters strung together careening and whistling to their intended targets.

And then I think about us, how we see this chatter, day and night, incessant words, constant words, bathing our thoughts and I wonder what will come of this, what are we building?

What happens in a world when conversation is mostly visual and  there are few pauses between our words? Where are the spaces in our communication now, the opportunities to pause and reflect before answering, or to just sit in comfortable silence with one and other.

Beyond the question, the silence,

before the answer, the silence.

May Sarton, from “Beyond the Question


This amazing technology that allows us to connect instantly is for the most part a gift, allowing families and friends to share their lives in a way never before possible. But like all blessings, it might also be a curse, teasing us into believing that putting thoughts into words without pausing to consider the effect or substituting virtual reality for an opportunity to connect with a real person is the way it is supposed to be.

I have no answers – I suppose when the telephone first became available to most people, there were those who declared it unnatural and dangerous to humanity, most likely by someone like me who tends to think too much… However, quite by accident, I stumbled upon a book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle.


Sherry Turkle is director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self and spoke with Krista Tippett about this topic on “On Being” recently. Do you think we really expect less from each other?  I’m going to download the book on my Nook and start reading.

You don’t expect me to throw the baby out with the bathwater do you?  I’ll let you know what I learn.  Until then,

Happy wandering –

p.s. Catherine here ~ What would happen if today, this week, this year, you focused on treating the words you release as precious as art, as air?  Celebrate silence. Be attentive “as a nesting bird.” Speak and write carefully.


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