Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In Search of a Balcony

The night air was cold. I shifted on the front steps outside my house, but the concrete remained hard and uncomfortable. Stars blinked across the clear night and I pushed myself to my feet. It’d been a fast three weeks since my move to a new city. Despite the upheaval, I found myself adjusting to my new life more easily than I ever imagined. Still, some areas seemed incomplete. Aside from my friends and students, the one thing I missed was my old balcony, the old wooden structure where I’d inevitably find myself whenever I needed time to think or pray. Something about the trees outside the window, or the cross gleaming in the distance, or the simple height that lifted me above the ground and allowed my imagination to wander. In my mind, the balcony was like the tree fort I’d made as a kid, the one I’d run to after a long day at school or a tough day at home.

The trees rustled behind me. I flinched, my eyes widening in surprise at the furry shapes ten feet from where I was sitting. An entire family of raccoons was picking up the loose apples from the tree in my neighbour’s yard. The biggest one noticed me sitting on the porch, and his green eyes glimmered like a cat’s as he regarded me, an apple in his paws. We looked at each other for about ten seconds and then he made some sort of a squeak and the family followed him as they waddled out of the yard.

I smiled, listening to the crickets and the tree frogs, a veritable chorus of night dwellers as I strolled down the street. In the hushed stillness of the night, my thoughts slowly began to clear.

I was tired. I loved my new housemates, but I simply wasn’t used to being with people all the time. I’d been jammed (and welcomed) into a busy, friendly family. It was exactly what I’d hoped for, but it didn’t make the experience any less exhausting.

It was strange, because my new experience was so reminiscent of my experience growing up, of living in a busy household. I hadn't known that lifestyle in many years. I'd adopted the 'stoop', the front steps as my new balcony, but still, it wasn't the same. It tended to be a busy place, a gathering place for the house. Except for times like now, when the city was quiet, when the radios and cars and noise paused for a few hours, when the world went to sleep.

My experience using the balcony was different these past four years. Being alone was not an issue, loneliness was. And now, although I still wrestled with loneliness at times, when couples seem to materialize all around me, I had to make an effort to be alone and listen in the silence.

I headed back towards my house. A street light flickered as the wind rustled the trees, the leaves luminescent in the dim light. The road was quiet. I thought about the hectic pace of my culture, about the rate at which my life had accelerated these past three weeks. More important than ever, I thought, that I remember to spend time on my new balcony. Many people got lost in the crazy pace of life; families, jobs, friends, it was hard to be still. Hard to find time to slow things down and reflect on our lives, on where we were going, on what God wanted for us.

In my new life, I could see how easily that happened. It only reinforced my belief that we needed to find time to do this increasingly hard thing. The Bible records that Jesus often went to places of solitude to pray. I can only imagine how important that time was for him, and how important it is for us.

I stopped at the end of my driveway and looked at my new home. Perhaps the strangest thing was that it didn't feel strange at all living here. I glanced over towards my neighbour's stoop. The family of raccoons was slowing making their way down the steps with a fresh bunch of fallen apples. The biggest one looked at me, and in a goofy moment that reflected too many hours watching Disney movies as a kid, I waved. He ignored me and waddled out of sight again with his family.

I was glad to be part of this new house, and glad that my new balcony was usually busy. I'd learned much in my three short weeks here, not the least of which was the importance of community. I also knew it was important that I never forget what I'd learned in my old place in Ottawa. On my old balcony. That slowing down was important. That prayer and silence were good for the soul. And that without time with God, we ran the risk of getting lost in the hectic cycle of life without ever truly appreciating all we'd been given.

May God help us this week to find time to slow down and consider our lives, consider just how much God loves us and how we can better serve Him, and remember that although our lives have been given for us to share, we all still need time on our balcony.