Mannequin Monday – Be Still

Turn down the volume and listen to the silence. Mannequin Monday brings us a note of quiet this week. Drape the form in soft fabric. In words that rise out of the silence in our hearts. A moment of stillness.

A few words from a biblical psalm help us be still.

As always, a lighthearted story of my own.

What I’m Reading This Week

I started a re-read of Louise Penny‘s The Beautiful Mystery. In the remote wilds of Quebec, detectives are called out to deal with the murder of the choir director within a Catholic monastery. The story centers on the origins of notated Gregorian chant.

In the book’s prologue: “In 1833 a young monk, Dom Prosper, revived the Abbey of St. Pierre in Solesmes, France, and made it his mission to also bring back to life the original Gregorian chants.”

Credit: Abbey of St. Pierre

In Penny’s novel, Dom Prosper discovered no one knew what the original chants sounded like. There was no written record. The chants predated written music, and were passed down orally.

“The first chants were soothing, contemplative, magnetic…They had such a profound effect on those who sang and heard them that the ancient chants became known as ‘the beautiful mystery.'”

Dom Prosper’s research revealed that another monk, perhaps a thousand years before, had attempted to notate the chants. Prosper imagines that this anonymous monk sat struggling with how to write a music note. He sat with the psalms written out on vellum by hand. And finally, he drew the first note, a wave above a word. “A single, short, squiggly line. Then another. And another. He drew his hand. Stylized. Guiding some unseen monk to raise his voice. Higher. Then holding. Then higher again. Hanging there for just a moment, then swooping and sweeping downward in a giddy musical descent.”

In Penny’s descriptive prose it’s not hard to imagine the scene, to hear the music come through the words.

What I’m Hearing This Week

A psalm-related thought: For the last several months I’ve had a mantra running through my head. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I am not looking to insert religious or theological insights here. The mantra simply helps me calm myself in the midst of so much going on: COVID, politics, distractions, extended family illness. The line comes from Psalm 46 in the Bible. I understand that this psalm was written in the context of trouble and war. The core message: Stop fighting.

What I take from it is more basic: be quiet and listen. Turn off the noise. Turn off even vocal prayer. Stop asking for things. Cease listing everything I think I need. Be still. Listen.

Here’s another way of saying it, from Iddu Krishnamurti:

So, this week I choose silence. In my reading. In my listening. In my own heart. My hope is that we can all share moments of stillness.

What I’m Writing This Week

I’m sharing another writing exercise, this one a bit playful. Two characters meet a newcomer at a lunchroom table.

Bill and Charley

Every meal found Bill and Charley sitting at the table next to the fireplace. There were no reserved places permitted in the dining room of the skilled nursing facility. Mattered not to Bill and Charley. They rolled their wheelchairs to the same table every day, and no one dared interfere. No one sat with them, either.

Not that they were menacing. No, they were quiet, well-mannered. Not a threat. Maybe a touch sarcastic.

At lunch one day a new resident rolled her wheelchair to an empty place at their table. “May I join you?”

“Sure, come on.”

Maria rolled in close to the table. “I’m new here. For rehab. Following surgery. I plan to be here for a week.”

“Welcome. I’m Charley. This is Bill.”

Bill nodded, smiled. His full grey beard lay against his shirt front.

Charley said, “There are no reserved places, but we sit here every meal.”

“Okay,” Maria said. “You don’t mind if I sit with you?”

“Glad to have the company,” Bill said. He slurred his words a bit.

The staff aides served plates of food to the three.

Bill dug in right away. As he ate, some food bits fell on his shirt. He spotted the scraps, picked them off with his fork, put them back in his mouth.

Charley said, “We live here. My wife is here too, but she’s in the other wing, where they need more care. She has dementia.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No worries. I get to see her about once a week. She hardly knows me.”

I’ll be here till I die.

“I’ll be here till I die,” Bill said. He struggled a bit with the words. “Excuse my speech. I have a touch of aphasia. Minor stroke a year ago.”

Maria nodded.

“Ironic,” Bill continued. “I have two advanced degrees in speech pathology, and I can’t talk well.”

“Bill has a pretty good setup,” Charley said. “His son lives back on the east coast, but he’s loaded. He set Bill up with a good long-term care plan.”

Maria looked at Charley. “Do you have that too?”

“My plan is decent. As long as I don’t live into my nineties, I’ll be fine.”

“This is a pretty good place,” Bill said. “Big company owns a bunch of them, but this is one of the better ones.”

“Health care could be better here,” Charley said. ” We have one doctor. He comes in once a week. We call him Doctor Hi and Bye. He walks through, waves at everyone, and he’s gone till next week.”

“Hi and bye. I like that.”

“You, too, right?” Bill said. “Hi and bye. You’ll be gone in a week. We’ll be here till…you know.”


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