'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani and I live a life that is at odds with the person that I am - and yet it is not. This life addresses just one half of me - the half that communicates meaningfully with other humans. My very destiny is caught up with the skill, the need, the substance of words - speaking them aloud, writing them within the hearing of other ears. Both fulfill me amply; it is my nature. I grew up in a family that encouraged exactly that. We spoke our thoughts and our feelings. We were rewarded for being social, and we worried over family members who did not share the skill. There was no praise for being a 'bump on the log.' There was no praise for an interior life.
So I have been well-trained in the manner of social interaction, and maybe I took to it like a duck to water. But it does not define the whole of me - although for much of my early life, I didn't know the difference. But the difference is there, and around age forty I came to understand that.
From college until thirty-five, I occupied myself with daily journalism: words spoken from my reporter's mouth to others ears; words spoken from others' mouths to my ears. I recorded all these many words on many pages over the years, and I got paid to do it.
Then there were the early years with children: Five years buried in the heart of Southern Appalachia on a forty-five acre farm that sat at the end of so many connecting and increasingly diminishing roads through mountains and valleys to our driveway. I lived those years in isolation from the social. I reared babies; I grew potatoes and I grew asparagus. I took blue-ribbon prizes at the state fair bake-offs: apple pie and strawberry shortcake. I fed parts of myself that I didn't know existed.
But ultimately, that isolation - the lack of society - of words spoken and words received tore at the very fiber and a marriage ended.
Then, somewhere around age forty the balance between my contradictory impulses was struck.
I surrendered the farm, and I surrendered my earlier programming too. I moved with my sons to a neighborhood in a small city. I put my sons on the school bus at 8:00 a.m. and lifted them off at 3:00 p.m. In between I sat in silence at a roll-top desk in a glass room that I constructed for the purpose, and I wrote.
For thirteen years alone with my sons, I wrote books - long treatises examining my own life and the lives around me. Then, after 3:00 p.m. and on weekends, I engaged humanity via children on the soccer field and Hebrew school and birthday parties; via the neighbors and a writing workshop that I taught; via television appearances - book promotion.
I struck a balance. I walked trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. I later walked the shores of the Oregon Coast. I had deep friendships - and seven hours a day, for at least five days a week, I had solitude.
Then 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani entered my my life with his prophecy and his life force. I met this Native Hawaiian man whose very being defines 'extrovert' - who fills and who feeds from humanity, who finds strength from the exchange of ideas with other humans.
I met a man who many call charismatic. He bleeds interest in others - he listens with an intensity that is rare, and he speaks with a commitment to his own truth that is riveting. And I (like many others) was drawn into his world. Grandmothers Whisper, tells the story of those first ten years in tents - a life without walls that either protect privacy or insure silence..
What it does not tell is the story of the life that has followed: these even less private Return Voyage years, the years of taking what we lived and learned and speaking about them across the American continent - almost never alone, never without talk.
But now, I am writing these words under a hand-stitched quilt, inside an 1810 farmhouse, on 180 acres stretched along the a mile and a half of the Shenandoah River, in the valley of the same name. I am propped on flannel-covered pillows, and I am gazing through windows that frame hills that rise from the river bank, in a room without curtains or 'window treatment'. There is no need for them.
There are Canadian geese within my site line at a pond that sits between me and the river. There isn't another house in view. There are perfectly maintained wooden fences for cattle that are absent during these months. There is a barn just outside my windows' frame that houses a single horse at the moment.
'Iokepa is down in the kitchen at breakfast, and I have been given the gift of solitude, of personal privacy, of utter and total silence. This simple space (empty of anything that feels extra) has been newly renovated to perfection and the pantry filled with the food we love.
We are the first people to live in this newly refreshed house. We share it only with the spirit of a much earlier inhabitant.
This farm is the gift of a woman who heard us speak at a bookstore in Winchester, Virginia over a month ago on a book tour that took us in that month to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, to Richmond and Asheville, to Sarasota and Atlanta.
It has been an intense, exhausting, and remarkably rewarding and successful series of appearances at bookstores, clubs, and churches throughout the Southeastern United States. It has used us - used me - well. It has served my nature, my need to communicate, my need to exchange words with other humans. But it has starved me as well.
We are appreciative always of the hospitality offered in the guest rooms of our many wonderful hosts, and we know how to be good guests. We move about on their schedules, attempt to not intrude, clean up after ourselves - of course. We work at not distracting from the household's expectation and experience.
I sit now in this home that is solely ours this week - or for whatever time we can spare of ourselves on this series of Grandmothers Whisper events, of our speaking out and telling stories, chanting and answering questions.
So in the midst of these engaging and generous months and years of shared homes and meals and conversation that last well into the nights and early mornings, we received an email from this stranger and her newly renovated, totally unoccupied farmhouse. - a woman who has "taken in critters" all her life. She intuited (sitting there listening to me read in that bookstore) a need in the midst of this intense and homeless travel of ours - and she offered this.
And this, on the banks of the Shenandoah River where the maples and oaks are leafless in winter - my heart and soul are full of the sounds of silence.