I spent the day packing boxes, loading them into the U-Haul, and unpacking them in their new location. In this year when I’m not going to have to move to a new house, my school decided to move to a new building. We’ve anticipated the move since the beginning of the school year, but permitting and bureaucratic issues with the town (not Durham) have delayed things, to put it mildly. We went into high moving gear when we got the clearances we needed in order to not have to pay April rent in our current location. We divided into groups, each teacher taking on a team of kids and a list of assignments, and we got it done – or at least got a lot of it done; tomorrow we will finish and I will drive to the new building when I go to work on Friday.
As someone who has spent my life moving, I’ve learned a thing or two about place. A few years ago, I wrote a post called “cooking acoustics,” which was about the power of the room when it comes to baking bread. Many years before that, I remember a conversation with Rhealene Stewart, who was the organist at University Baptist Church most of my life. She was there when the church moved into the “big sanctuary” and used to talk about how the room changed the people. “We became more formal from the very first service,” she said, “not because we talked about it or decided to do it, but just because we moved from church in the Fellowship Hall to church in a room with stained glass windows and a pipe organ.” Church acoustics.
Ginger and I have lived in seven residences in our marriage. In each one, we have developed traditions that were site specific, not because we were intentional about leaving them behind as we moved but because a different space offered different “marriage acoustics,” if you will. In Marshfield, the set up in our living room with a u-shaped couch turned, somehow, into our putting a futon mattress down on the floor – we called it the palette – and sleeping there from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or New Year’s). It was one of our favorite things. We moved to Durham and the living room was neither big enough for the couch or a mattress. When Thanksgiving came, we just didn’t do it, and remarked to each other of the passing of the ritual but the futon seemed to belong in Marshfield in a way it didn’t find a home here in Durham.
So as I stood in what will be my room, which tonight is filled with furniture to be placed and boxes to be unpacked, I wondered what the school acoustics will be. The traffic patterns between classes will change, how the rooms are set up will be different, the options I have in teaching are increased. Also, there are more windows, it feels like there is more space, and the building is located in a much more populated area (with a bakery next door!). I have to learn a new route to and from school and figure out a new time to leave each day to get there on time.
As I drove home this afternoon thinking about the day, I began to think about Durham’s acoustics and the resonance my life is finding here. Part of what has shaped me here is missing Massachusetts, and the grief is not the whole range of feelings. The sanctuary at our church here is a small A-framed building that is wood and brick on the inside. I love to sing in the sanctuary because of the way my voice expands in the space. It feels effortless to me. I can feel my throat relax, my muscles ease, and I become connected to the room rather than someone just standing in the middle of it. Walking the street of this city feels the same way. Connected.
Lent reminds me that there are liturgical acoustics as well. These are days of focus and forgiveness, of preparation and intentionality. Eastertide rolls in as the stone rolls away and bursts in our hearts like a big bass drum. Pentecost is Snoopy dancing in the leaves. Lenten acoustics for me thrive on resonance and memory in much the same way I can hear a song I love but have not heard in years and the melody comes up from inside of me out of muscle memory bringing with it not only words and music but the sights and smells and feelings and faces of all the times I have heard or sung that song.
I remember buying the record as a sophomore at Paschal High School in Fort Worth — 1971. Tonight, some forty years later, it swam to the surface on this spring night as I write about the acoustics of place because I’ve been packing boxes once again. What reverberates most is the gratitude.