watts drums

My Dad pastored several different churches when I was growing up, but we never stayed at any of them for very long. We moved often, from town to town, church to church, and house to house. Our average length in most places was only two years, so home always felt like a place I had just left but could never go back to.

Now that I’ve lived in the same house for over nine years, home feels more like a tangible object, something I can hold onto with both hands. Perhaps it is a small wooden drum that fits neatly into my palm. The bleached animal hide is stretched taught against its sturdy circular frame, and the sound it makes when I thump it is exactly the right pitch.

Most mornings my drum beats slowly, quiet and steady, while the children crawl out of bed and clamor to the kitchen for breakfast. The oldest one wants a bagel, the middle one likes cereal, and there’s warm oatmeal for my smallest. “Just coffee for me this morning, honey” says my husband, smiling as I refill his mug.

By the time everyone is dressed and fed and the sink is full of their dirty dishes, the drum is beating quickly and loudly. We hurry to the cars and drive away in opposite directions, like spokes on a wheel.

When I pull back into the empty driveway I know the house will be quiet, an extended rest time until the next busy measure. And the stillness and aloneness are all mine. Finally, there is room to sort out all my thoughts; to lay them out on the kitchen table for examination. Each one is a sheet of paper or an item on my list. I read them over carefully, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to put into the recycling bin.

This is the space I need, the time I crave, when the sun shines in through the window and the kitten on the couch is sleeping. All the words begin to sound like what they mean and I chew them up slowly while drinking multiple cups of tea.

Before I know it, the ticking clock is thumping that little piece of leather, telling me it’s time to gather everyone up again, for another nightly dance. By the time we sit down at the table for dinner, the drumbeats are irregular and frenetic but if I hum along with the beat I can usually find a tune.

The best drummers understand the importance of balancing both quiet and sound, with the crucial element known as time. Time together and time apart. On a regular basis, they thump the batter head, then let its echo resound.

There’s a beautiful song from Paul Simon’s Graceland album called “Homeless,” that laments the loss of a home destroyed by strong winds. The haunting acapella voices remind me of the temporariness of this life, while the absence of a drum beat seems to amplify the sorrow. And yet the song feels hopeful as it leaves me with the lovely image of “moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake.”

These days I’m beginning to understand that home is not a certain set of walls, or a particular small town where I grew up. Home is no longer a place at all. Even if this house I live in disappears one day, and the little drum in my hand gets stolen, home will be the pulse of the people I love. As the time spent caring for both them and myself drives the melody of life ever forward, and around and around and around.

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