I lie in bed on a summery morning as a deluge of early morning light slants through the window and floats across the bedroom like a translucent velvety curtain rippling in a soft spoken breeze. Here as we wake in our house—the house my grandparents built on the corner of the forty acre farm I grew up on, here, away from the busy sirens and traffic of the big city we moved from, bird songs compete in the trees on the other side of the window screen, and the air has a pleasant nip and slight crispness to it. “Comfortable sleeping weather,” we call this.
My husband is still on his back in a dreamy drowsy sleep. Carbon dioxide rolls out of his lungs slowly and steadily, heaving upward, sending waves of movement through the air as tiny dust particles illuminated by the light, swirl and surf on the warmish current of his breath.
In this moment of steady breathing and the wafting of tiny particles around me—only visible in the slant of light gushing in through the window, I slip into a state of spiritual, emotional, and physical quietude. Everything around me and everything within me seems aware and fully present to the moment. The world inside me and the world around me seems perfectly still and perfectly attuned. Until. Until nostalgia suddenly overwhelms my body. Because it knows it has been here before. And it wakes up to the memory.
The old farm house was drafty. The windows thin and full of old rippled imperfections. Michigan winter was persistent in knocking on the doors and rattling the windows—always begging to get inside, and cleverly finding ways to penetrate the thick walls or slip through the small cracks that were apparently everywhere, because we felt it.
Dad kept the house warm by feeding chopped wood into the roaring growling stomach of the wood burning stove. We all took turns swinging the ax to be sure the covered red wagon stayed full of our winter fuel. It served to keep the heart of our home toasty. But the chill of outside seemed to always find a way to seep through invisible pores of the creaky old house, burning away the warmth on the far rooms and edges of our home. My bedroom was upstairs and well within that chill zone.
The coldest wintry nights had me buried under so many heavy layers of thick wool blankets that at times I could barely lift my chest high enough to squeeze the necessary oxygen inside my lungs. I may as well have been strapped down, because it took effort to even roll over under the weight of so much cotton and wool. As long as I remained cocooned in at night and didn’t wriggle free exposing myself to the cold, I usually managed a full eight hours of deep and exceptional nightly hibernation.
The walls of my bedroom were painted with a grainy popcorn-textured white paint. My bedspread had been stitched up with care by my mom, along with matching curtains out of a pretty red and white gingham fabric. She had managed to savage enough scraps to sew a matching sleeper for my doll, Sally, as well. In my short doll-loving phase, Sally was always tucked in beside me at night.
The speckled and plastered walls of my bedroom had cracks and holes and patched up spots. As I lay waiting for sleep to take me, my mind would connect the tiny speckle bumps on the walls like a limitless dot-to-dot in a coloring book, and entire creative worlds would unfold in my imagination around my island of red and white gingham. Sometimes I imagined my walls were endless stretches of sand laid out all around me as far as I could see, and I was an adventurer caught in the middle of the Sahara Desert with the dust kicking up all around me. I could only hunker down and let sleep take me until the wind died down and the dust settled.
At the foot of my bed hung a picture my Grandma had painted for me. Two little yellow-haired children were down on their knees, each with their hands pressed together in perfect prayer poses. Words were inscribed in the space between them.
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light, to guard, to rule and to guide.
Words at the foot of your bed nearly always stay with you, especially if you’re one who doesn’t fall immediately asleep. This hung on my wall before I could read, and these words were some of the first words I learned to sound out. Angels, love, and a protecting God as my guardian was not a bad thing to have on my mind as I drifted off every night, particularly being stuck in the middle of the desert as I sometimes was.
The icy winter mornings always came charging rudely into my dreams. First the alarm. Then wriggling my hand free from the layers to slam off the steady snapping whining beep. This was always followed by an awareness that my nose was an ice cube on my face, which led to the next morning ritual of cupping my hands over my mouth and nose for a few moments, pushing out moist warm morning breath into the cavity of my hands to thaw the numbness of my nose. In a minute or two I would work up the bravery to hoist myself out from under the covers, dash across the icy floor boards, snatching up my clothes for the day in a quick swipe, and making my way downstairs to the warm heart of the home.
The fire would go out at night, so my dad would usually be there already scooping out the mound of cold ashes from the prior day, carefully preserving a few hot lumps and strategically piling up the kindling for fresh heat as I made my way down the creaky, steep, and narrow stairwell. It takes some time for the heat to warm through the thick iron of the stove and actually lick the room with its hot tongue. I would spread my clothes on the bricks surrounding the stove to warm them through as the fire approached a nice roar.
On those winter mornings when the sun decided to yawn and stretch itself from beneath Michigan’s often cloudy gray sky, the light of the long sunbeams was thrown across the living room floor through the tall leaded East-facing windows. There was warmth here in the sunbeam. And a good measure of comfort. And always I would lie on my back in the light on the floor, wrapped in a blanket crocheted by my mom’s mom—the grandma I never knew—and settle into a moment of what I came to think of as my “warm place of waiting.” Waiting for the house to warm. Waiting for my clothes to warm. Waiting for the start of whatever this new day held.
With my body curled up where the light hit the floor, I would quietly watch the dust in the air ignited by the great aurora happening in our living room, as the light and dust floated, swirled, and drifted on the dim hot current of my breath.
The illuminating presence of light on dust shimmered with an aliveness as the small silvery specs curled, whirled, and rolled around like miniature ballerinas in whimsical unchoreographed movement. Each one moving independently, yet somehow embodying the ineffable in the mingling of their movements as a whole. Fully tuned into the mesmerizing waltz happening in the space above my face, I would forget the cold and all the world around me as I extended my arm upward as if to direct the dance. My fingers moved through the velvety liquid light like olive oil drizzled over a hot fresh-from-the-oven loaf of bread. Slowly stirring up new choreography for the specks, I would think to myself that I could lie right here in the silence for a full morning, just watching the tiny particles move with elegance in the spotlight.
I used to wonder if God was somewhere in the dust, or maybe in the light that illuminated the dust. Or maybe God was in both the light and the dust because the dance between the two was so impossibly beautiful.
My husband still sleeps beside me as all this calm works itself inside me and as the light moves with the dust all around me. There is warmth all over–warmth of body, warmth of mind, warmth of soul, warmth of safety, warmth of memory. The sacred simplicity of the dust that surrounds me and that is connected to me envelops me with holy love even when the world can’t always bring itself to.
Dust. Always there. Moving, resting, floating, twirling, dancing, hitchhiking across the room on invisible currents even when the sun isn’t around to make it known. It is ubiquitous, omnipresent—always present even on the cloudy days when my eyes can’t find it.
Dust. The dust that sits thick on my memories, now brushed away being back in this place where my life began. The dust of me. The dust around me. The dust within me. The dust from which I came and to which I go. The presence of God everywhere in this holy gospel of dust.
Whoosh. Wow. Such a beautiful piece. Poetry, really. Thank you.
Beautiful. Reminded me of my grandparents farm house in McBain. You have a gift with words!
I savored every phrase and image. Wonderful.
The dance of God in dust and light—moving. Thanks for warming my heart this morning with your dust-thoughts, Christi.
What a wonderful, poetic remembrance and meditation on the old house, waking up, warming up, and watching the dust in the air. It was fun to hear of your experience, but also about how Howie and Judy made your home so warm and welcoming. And then the link with our God that is always around and in us! Thanks for your excellent words.
You’re walking between Vermeer and Naomi Shihab Nye, holding their hands. Thank you for blankets of what’s actually sacred.
Yes to the beauty of how you blanket the page, Christy, offering insight so precious. Saluting your skill with words and most of all, your perceptive heart, so open & affirming of the IS – that is.
Thank you for this wonderful meditation. Do you know Robert Hayden’s poem, Those Winter Sundays?
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?