Try to explain to your mother, an extrovert who was raised in a family of 11 and whose idea of perfect happiness is having all her kids back under the same roof, that it doesn’t matter how much you love them… constantly being surrounded by people without any alone time for 10 days straight is exhausting for you. It saps you of all energy, and you need to be by yourself to replenish that vital life source.
On a trip where every minute is accounted for from the instant you wake to lights out, you steal moments where you can.
You sip them with the reverence of a holy sacrament or like the purest water you ever drank, from a fast-flowing mountain stream at a national park, before you had any fear or knowledge of brain-eating amoebas or flesh-eating viruses.
At 8 a.m. when she pokes her head into your room to see if you’re still sleeping, like an untrained puppy who can’t wait to play, you sometimes pretend not to be up yet.
You linger in the shower, even as the water temperature dips in and out of hot and starts pooling at your feet.
You shut yourself in a room for an hour to wrap presents with the concentration and slowed intentionality of a Buddhist monk tapping out sand from a metal straw into a mandala. Don’t peek, you urge when they knock.
You find yourself relishing those mid-night wakeful hours reserved for sleep and perfect stillness. The ones not meant to be observed and that normally taunt you in throes of relentless tossing and turning.
You volunteer to help with the measured and muted repetition of chopping vegetables for Christmas Eve dinner.
When you happen to turn down the one New York City street without anyone else on it and slow your pace to a wedding march.
While out running errands, a flock of birds passes overhead like a perfectly choreographed ballet, and everything pauses for just a second.
And sliding the shade up just after takeoff, you see the earth as a twinkling blanket of a million anchored stars.
Remembering this time last year: the complete and ineffable isolation you felt in Iceland. You realize it’s not solitude you’re searching for.
You’re learning, no doubt as your mother did long ago, to gather up moments of quietude, like so many spring blossoms, amidst the polyphonic rhythm of others.