Sunday, August 4, 2013

The House on the Hill

There is something out of place about the Zen music. This is not a place of calm. This is a place where energy is directly proportional to volume and movement and energy is never in short supply. The last thing one expects is silence. Yet among the moments of entropy a stillness has formed. Nothing overly dramatic, at first no larger than the marshmallows melting in a bag by the fire. As the first person notices it she takes one of those centering breaths the shaved monks made famous. She is followed quickly by another, this one remembering that music sets a mood. The Zen music is her contribution to the growing storm of calm. It builds to a critical mass as the final two join in. The entire porch is overtaken by yoga masters and Zen pupils. 

Only then do the others hear the silence. Without knowing why, they fall into it too.

Some people build retreats in the hills to find peace. Others export the city with them. There is a romanticism about hills that we seem unable to shake. The shinning city on the hill has been used and abused to such a degree that it’s hard to take it seriously anymore. Almost no one remembers that the reason we like hills so much is because it’s a lot easier to kill the people when you’re on the top of the hill than on the bottom. We rarely build atop hills for the defensive advantage anymore. Now we go for the view or the seclusion or for the power play. My house is higher than your house kind of thing. Nothing like a bit of unhealthy jousting to rationalize your architecture. There is something spectacular about a sunset on a hillside that almost makes it worth it.

This hill is nearly perfect. The family has been here forever it seems. We call it a compound, not because we have a fully stocked bomb shelter on campus, but because it can fit the entire family without too much trouble. Given our numbers, anything less than an acre would be a squeeze. When the gate shuts with us inside, the cars lined up along the drive, it’s difficult to find a silent space. If the dogs don’t find you, the children certainly will. You can get a picturesque view of the sunset over the California hills, but only if you’re willing to share it with a nine-year old or some llamas.

But we don’t come out here for the view, as spectacular as it is. The draw is always the family. We are an eclectic bunch, leaning closer to nerdy than anything else. Everyone has their thing, their spot, their job and they fall right back into the routine. Love here comes flavored with sarcasm and a nipple twister is as sure a sign of affection as any hug. There is an aggressive sense of competition that never reaches the level of true contest, but buzzes as an undercurrent nonetheless. The living room serves as the fulcrum for the entire operation. On a well-worn armchair sits the great man himself. We run on his schedule and only out here do you rediscover that going to bed before midnight can be so relaxing. The Internet is slow enough here to prevent any attempts at Netflix. That is enough to force interaction, but the need for food means there is always someone to talk to in the kitchen.

Coming here is the best way to remember what family time can be. More often than not things get awkward, but in the best possible way. Here the family stories are kept alive. The is a little bit of everything is here: artists, computer scientists, educators, actors, students, business people, and a rotating cast to fill in the gaps. If you sit here and listen you could learn to run the world. It is here that silence captures your attention.

The hum of this self-contained universe is so rarely interrupted that any break in flow is significant. It is here, where a family concentrates to share the sounds of a lifetime, that silence makes itself heard.

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