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.
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.