by Tim J. Myers
You move into a new house, and of course it’s a hell of a lot of work. We’ve been pulling fourteen-hour days, hauling boxes till our arms and legs ache. And you start setting things up, just so. This goes here—should we put that over there? A seemingly endless number of objects to be placed, to be positioned as the perfect slaves they are, never moving unless we bid them. And you start learning the little peculiarities of the place—the way you have to pull just so to get the shower to work—how the front door sticks a bit. Even the sounds of it, a kind of minor encyclopedia: the kitchen tile you keep stepping on, that makes an odd squelching noise—the way china rattles in the hutch when someone walks past.
But all along you’re engaged in another kind of house-warming too, almost without thinking. You hardly notice it. And it’s more than one’s emotional attachment to a house, as real as that is. It’s something that takes no notice of the elements of “home staging,” like the smell of fresh-baked bread to entice renters or buyers, or general “home-i-ness,” any of that. You’re seeking, feeling for, slipping into, something far deeper.
I worried for days, unaware of it, that there were no mockingbirds here. So many in our old neighborhood—and just three miles away! The world alive with them in May and June, their songs filling me whether I listened or not. Then I heard one, here, from the branches of the Modesto ash in our front yard. Fool, I told myself—you just happened to move in early July, the season shifts, they stop singing then. Mates are already won, sex on hidden branches has filled the world with a different, silent kind of song—eggs are growing in feathered bodies, nests being built. They’re here too. Of course.
We think about shower curtains, where to hang the mirrors, how to pack our plastic Christmas bins in the little shed. I try to remember how to reconnect all the parts of my computer. I go out to the car at night, off to grab some fast food, and notice a gleam of stars through leaf-thick branches above me.
We talk continually about what we need to buy. A new rug for the dining room—what color? Indoor-outdoor is best—they wear better, and easier to clean. At night I fall into bed, my head as weary as my body. But I find myself waking to sunlight crowding at the window, warming my limbs. Ah, the window looks east—it can be for us like it was for those who lived here long ago, homes arranged so their doorways always faced the dawn.
And my neighbor, whose backyard is a botanical version of a middle-class pleasure palace, a Cheesecake Factory of greenery and garden knick-knacks—he tells me off-handedly that he gets hummingbirds all the time. That eases me—eases this part of my self that’s learning the new house, the new street, the new bit of Earth beneath it. Eases the part of me that fears a particular kind of emptiness amid the great but level fruitfulness of a modern American suburb.
The flurry of questions continues: Where’s the closest grocery store? How long will it take us to get to work from here? Oh, you can’t go that way—that’s our old route, it’ll take too long. But under those questions, a quieter one, less pressing in the practical world, far more pressing in the depths of myself:
What capacity does this new place have?
The question keeps rising in wordless form; I realize with only mild surprise that I myself am asking it, again and again. And I know, without thinking, exactly what it means.
Capacity—for Vision. For some strange sudden eruption of spiritual truth into my consciousness. How will I encounter the sacred in the minutiae and particulars of this one small place? What relationship may arise between my spirit and the sidewalks, the front lawn, the feel of the house at midnight? It’s happened before—Vision has come to me, changing everything. Can it happen here?
In the middle of our big moving day, sweating and dirt-smudged, she and I paused at twilight to glimpse the new crescent through vines and trees in the backyard. Nothing made us feel more at home.
I took all the power strips and extension cords, cleaned them up, rolled and rubber-banded them, put them in a drawer so we can find them when we need them. The cable guy came and connected us. There’s an enormous deciduous, huge rounded leaf-heavy crown, off beyond the houses across the street. It must be on the next block, maybe farther. I step out the side door of the garage to finish a drink, find myself peering beyond the top of my new fence to those high branches as they shift in the wind—
Yes, I think. Yes. The way those leaves move, the sway of those branches in wind just after the sun sets. Yes.
It can happen here.
My spirit begins to take its ease. It has its own great animal faith in eventuality, even concerning that which seems, by its very radiance, impossible. And now it feels this place, begins to let itself seep into everything here, the slope of the roof, the dirt of the empty flowerbeds, the worn wood of the back fence, the stuccoed walls, each blade of newly-sodded grass. It greets passing breezes, neighborhood smells, little rainbows in the sprinkler arcs.
I begin to wait.
Tim J. Myers is a writer, storyteller, songwriter, and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University. He writes for all ages. Find him at www.TimMyersStorySong.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TimJMyers1. Regal House is proud to publish Tim J. Myers’ poetry collection, Down in the White of the Tree: Spiritual Poems in the fall of 2018.
Learning a New House,” was originally published in: America: The National Catholic Review. 2017, with the title: “Looking for God while moving into a new house that doesn’t feel like home.”