What is the “rhythm of stillness”? An oxymoron? An invitation to pause and ponder? A whimsical poetic conundrum?
Annie Q. Syed is drawn to the rhythm of stillness experienced in those “quiet hours of the early morning before a city, town, or village takes a big yawn and stretches itself into your routine.” She dubs these rare but sacred moments Still Sundays:
“These mornings are especially unique in New York because the City doesn’t sleep but she just takes naps. And the longest naps are on Sunday mornings. I love Sunday mornings in NYC. I try my best not to have anything planned, not even a yoga class, before 12:00 p.m. If my mind is quiet enough I borrow the stillness and share some thoughts with a few friends or family members via email or a phone conversation. Some mornings I simply wrap the stillness of a Sunday morning around a pen and put fragments on a paper.“
Are you making time to be still? To listen to the stillness? This past Sunday Syed pondered a conversation she’d had with a friend who decried the perpetual frenzy and commotion of life in New York City. She wondered if, how and why stillness is possible (essential?) amidst the whirring, screeching, bumping, jackhammering, phone ringing, car door slamming, elevator bell dinging “city that never sleeps”. It is. She knows it is, and she wandered toward the reason why. Her reason why.
“New York didn’t define me; I defined New York. I believe the stillness I speak of is borne out of that carving. I can hear a steady beat inside the multi-rhythmic pulsating blend of music that can’t easily be tuned out. The tempo matches my heart. Stillness then is a cadence of choice.“
At least most of the time. Carving out a space for stillness amidst the throng will open up the possibility of stillness. But there must also be room for chance, for stumbling accidentally upon these somewhat paradoxical interstices, and then honoring them. Syed doesn’t say this, not explicitly, but she recounts an anecdote that trumps any explanation.Tucked into her familiar routine of yoga class followed by pizza at an Upper West Side pizzeria, a fleeting encounter with Nina — a 78 year old Greek lady dressed in a pink skirt suit — offers an invitation to wander into the unfamiliar. Syed accepts the invitation.
If the rhythm of stillness seems to be drowned out by din and routine, it might not be New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago that have picked up the pace or turned up the volume. It might be that we forget to stop, to listen, to wonder. It might be that we’re not quite as receptive as we could be. Should be.
I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve lived in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome as well. Plenty of busy-busy in all of them. And so many reasons to ignore the old bat who says “Hello,” at the pizzeria or asks you how to find the Jardin des Tuileries. No time to stop and wonder at the thousands of tiny black birds painting paisleys in the sky above the Colosseum. Too busy to pause and listen to the girl practicing her cello at Abe’s left foot in the Lincoln Memorial. But, as Syed reminds us, there’s an opportunity lurking beneath the quotidian. Whether it’s an early Sunday morning while the “To Do” list is still snoozing, or squeezed in between a slice of pizza and a bus ride, there’s rhythm in the stillness. Will you stop to listen? To sing along? To dance?
Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Annie Q. Syed (@so_you_know on Twitter) who’s inspired me plenty in recent months, and who is is one of the reasons I believe that Twitter is a midwife for real friendship! And a hat tip to the late Paul Zweig who’s The Adventurer: The Fate of Adventure in the Western World is where I first stumbled upon this idea of interstices.