Thursday, April 30, 2009


The Trapeze Swinger - Iron + Wine (mp3)

Sometimes a thing's power is in its subtlety. Sometimes a calm, low tide proves vital to the psychological ecosystem.

My head often feels like a place overrun with tidal waves and tsunamis, with ideas and emotions tossing and turning, with the rare chance to feel settled, to feel at peace. This is not a complaint. I tend to revel and thrive in such a manic mental environment, and it suits my attention span and my passions more often than not. We are the way we are for deep and sometimes impenetrable reasons, right? Personal evolution, right?

Only a few things seem to calm the tempest within me. These have changed many times over the decades, of course. Lately, here are the ones guaranteed to work:
  • Reading to my daughters, or singing to them before they go to sleep, one of them sitting on both sides of me, my arms around them, my fingers lightly tracing their upper arms and shoulders, or running through their beautiful hair.
  • Lying down on the guest bed with my 1-year-old son when he wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, holding him close and feeling his panic slowly bleed away as he finds his peace and calm in my slight rocking, in my heartbeat and breathing and gentle words.
  • Sitting at the kitchen table at my mother's house on Sundays after church, my wife and mom and I talking over sandwiches and sweet tea.
One particular healing activity, however, has withstood the long test of my brief lifetime. In my 37 years, I've never known a time when swinging failed to soothe my soul at least a little.

As a kid, and then as a teenager, one of my trustiest retreats was a playground swing set. My friend Scott and I would feel the pressures and miseries of teen angst building up and hastily bike down to a huge nearby swing set or, later, drive to the swings on my church's property, and we would swing... for as long as it took. We'd go as high as we could, so high that the chains would loosen and then constrict again, and we'd jolt against the seat as we fell back to earth. But that feeling, of leaning back completely, of the air rushing past you, of controlled flying... it released a valve and depressurized the cabin of being a teenager, of being a human spinning madly amongst other madly-spinning humans.

I've since mostly traded in the playground swing for the porch swing, although either still works wonders. Something about the motion, the back-and-forth and the generated breeze and being outside, that calms my mind and stills my emotional waters better even than sleep.

The house where we currently live has a swing on the front porch, and it's a truly transcendent location. We're on the side of a ridge, so my view looks out to downtown Chattanooga in the distance. In the daytime, I can see Lookout Mountain and its Incline and the lush greenery that, from my angle, fools you into thinking maybe downtown isn't just a bunch of steel-and-concrete. At night, I can see the lights of the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and Finley Stadium in the distance, but the lights don't overwhelm so much as help to trace vague outlines into the view.

Sitting on that swing, I feel both alone and a part of something bigger. Our house is the last one on our road, so no one drives past our house. I can sit there for a couple of hours, day or night, and stand a decent chance of never seeing a neighbor. But I can hear the sound of cars and sirens and sometimes even gunshots echoing up the ridge. I can write, or listen to music, or read, or just be. I can sit on that swing and ignore our ringing phones and all of the technology that clogs the pores of our home. (Technology for which I'm 95% responsible, to be fair.)

March and April have been perfect months to enjoy that swing, that view, temperatures in the 60-80 range.

Swinging serves me in the same way I desperately long to serve my children -- first as infants and even as they grow up -- as that magical rocking balm to a world that moves much too fast, but almost never smoothly.

Ironic, no? When the world moves too fast, trying to stop completely fails to help much and sometimes just makes everything worse. But slowing it all down a little, and just swinging, does wonders.


Anonymous said...

Dear author,

We always knew you were a swinger. Give us a call.

That couple down the street

The Big Nichols said...

One could do worse than be a swinger...

Billy said...

Originally I was going to upload "Rock Steady" by The Whispers to go with this post, but (a) it would have required paying $1 for the song, and (b) it would have only encouraged more of you doofuses to respond with swinger commentary when you should know by now that I'm much too morally upstanding and incorruptible to find such things amusing.

P.S. Which couple down the street?

Charlotte Johnson said...

This song immediately came to mind when reading this post.

Am I I the only one who is deeply disturbed that swings are no longer a routine part of school playgrounds?

Anonymous said...

When you get off your porch, hang a right and go to the bottom of the hill. At the stop sign, turn right. We're in the first house on your right. Don't bother knocking. Come on in. We'll be ready for you...

Couple Down the Street