“There’s something about the stillness of the stone,” my friend had said, seeming to understand immediately my stammering explanation of why we’d bought the old place. She was just the sort of New Age friend who would say such a thing, so I ought not have been surprised. I was though, just the same, surprised and pleased that she’d understood and articulated it so perfectly. “Yes,” I’d replied, “I guess that’s it.”
It was a 250-year old Maryland farmhouse which was not at all what we’d been looking for. Too close to the road, too far from town, and much too much to manage. Nonetheless, we’d fallen in love, the house and I, as lovers often do: instantly, foolishly, irrevocably. My husband seemed to love the old house too, and I fancied that it was for some of the same reasons he loved me: sure, she was an old girl, who had been through her share of storms. She sagged in places, and bore signs of wear, but she had survived, sturdy and strong. It was true that she couldn’t hold a candle to the younger homes, all flashy curb appeal and plumb corners. But she was sort of pretty, in her own quirky way, and she had an interesting personality; it seemed like she would be be fun at parties. Most importantly, she was available.
By the time we arrived in summer, she’d been alone several months, and had really let herself go. Acreage which months before had seemed a sanctuary had become a jungle. We got skinny that season, clearing out branches and brush, reviving neglected gardens, learning the rhythms of the old place, trying to convince her and ourselves that we were up to the task. We failed more days than not, dropping into bed with an exhaustion that four babies had not prepared us for. What had we gotten ourselves into? There was no respite at all that season, or the next, just constant movement of souls thrown together. The house was the irresistible femme fatale, enchantingly and intangibly more than the sum of her failings, and, it seemed, of ours. The fact that we had, really and truly, moved from the Sunflower State made the tagline unavoidable: We were so not in Kansas any more.
Eventually, those first long and exhausting days were replaced by the rhythm of normal family life, and in time, we settled a comfortable familiarity of the old homestead. Years of marriage had prepared us well to know which noises were worrisome or actionable, and which were best ignored. I’d been afraid we’d have mice, but I shouldn’t have worried: we had snakes instead. Despite warnings to the contrary, we were relieved to find no ghosts. Our children were coming to love the place too, occasionally declaring their growing attachment to their “weird” house, when not complaining bitterly about the yard work, the old door latches which did not hold things, the cold shock of the brick kitchen floor on their bare feet in the morning.
It was in that same kitchen, just one winter later, when I got the call. “It’s breast cancer,” the voice on the phone said, and the sturdy old floor seemed to disappear from under my feet, the news rocking me to my core. But I began to think about the women who’d come before me at this ancient place. One way or another, they must have received—not by phone perhaps, but surely by letter, in delicate longhand, or in person, a neighbor, approaching grimly on horseback—news which had rocked them, too. A child lost to illness, a sister in childbirth, a friend to a fever, a husband to war or to the farming field. There was nothing novel about this experience; I was part of an ancient sisterhood. I was not the first to grieve here, and I would not be the last.
I was reminded of what my friend had said. There was a stillness to those stones; there was something almost palpable about what they’d taken in over the many years. They darkened in the morning rain and stayed wet long after it had stopped, soaked up the afternoon sun and stored the heat. Could it be that those stones had absorbed, too, the strength and courage, the very energy of all of the women who had come before me? Perhaps it was still there, all around me, soaked in and stored up and shared for the asking. Maybe there were—maybe there always are—ghosts of the very best kind, silent and knowing soul sisters who would midwife me through.
I knew then why the stillness of the stone had spoken to me all along.