“Wait watchfully,” wrote Rainer Maria Rilke in a prose poem he penned around 1895, which my husband and I read on an autumn morning during our quiet time a couple of years ago. Sounds much like Thich Nhat Hahn’s mantra to “live mindfully” in our scattered and speeded-up world, we agreed, something we first read about in the mid-1980s, when we’d just returned from our second overseas Mennonite Central Committee assignment in South Africa. At that point, we felt overwhelmed by the pace of life and “getting ahead/consumer-style” preoccupations in North America.
But now, 20 years later, living mindfully has almost become a cliché, with books on the theme multiplying like daisies in spirituality sections of bookstores and libraries everywhere. So there was a sense of having “been there and done that” already.
Yet Rilke’s words to “wait watchfully” caught our attention in a fresh way that day. They resonated with our present state of being—unsettled and caught up as we were in the throes of listing and selling our long-time Winnipeg home as we contemplated making a major move “east” to be closer to our kids and grandkids in our senior years.
All of this uprooting required a lot of waiting and watching as we opened ourselves to new ways of being. We suddenly found ourselves sprouting a different vocabulary that included words/ideas like “staging your home so others can imagine themselves in it”; and doing showings, admittedly not of the Julian of Norwich spiritual variety, which she experienced and wrote about in the 14th century. These spiritual “showings” are increasingly popular now, encouraging and reassuring distressed spiritual seekers that ultimately “All shall be well. “
Our own showings involved more pedestrian and worldly things like opening our home, which had become a sacred space for us over more than four decades, knowing that these walls bore many memories of living and loving here with family and friends. So, for strangers to walk through and explore all the nooks and crannies felt “inappropriate,” as our five-year-old granddaughter described it when her family moved house a year earlier!
But seemingly that’s what it takes to sell a house these days. So we found ourselves in a constant waiting and watching mode, anticipating showings, checking email and phone messages to see when the next visitation of our home would be happening. And, when a specific hour was announced, we hurried about tidying up our already immaculate and “nicely staged” home (thanks to a whirlwind of creative help from several siblings), then grabbing our computer case, stuffed with valuables like passports, ready to head out the door to run errands, visit a friend or go for coffee.
But then the phone would ring, or the computer would ping ominously, noting an incoming email message informing us that the showing has been cancelled or postponed due to a client held up by a business meeting, or even by something more exotic, like having forgotten that the viewer was scheduled to serve as an extra on a movie shoot that day!
But thankfully, after about a dozen or so of these showings and revelations, we were grateful that people were mostly respectful and careful of our home. It was also fun to spot small signs of little ones having walked through our home, such as re-arranged chess pieces and crokinole buttons on their respective boards, or a children’s book turned upside down in the book basket. And it pleased me to think that these wee ones might be part of the new family who would call this place home, loving both the house and the community as we had done, and shoring up their own memories in the years ahead.
So, as we hurried out the back door in anticipation of another visitation, I’d sometimes whisper softly: “Do your stuff, beloved home. Shine a welcome for your new family!”
And finally, after a couple of false starts, just the right young couple arrived. They immediately fell in love with our home and the community because it was already familiar, since one of them had grown up on the next street! They eagerly made an offer—accompanied by a gift of homemade cookies!—both of which we gladly accepted. There was happiness all around.
Epilogue: This past summer, almost three years later, we drove by our former home again and saw signs of loving care still being lavished there. The perennials were blooming brightly and a new garden gate had been installed to privatize the backyard, suggesting perhaps that there might be little ones playing back there! We continued gratefully onward, giving thanks that our watchful waiting had been worthwhile, and that, truly, “All shall indeed be well.”
Leona Dueck Penner curates the Mennonite Women Canada pages for Canadian Mennonite.
Flowers hang in the former backyard of Peter and Leona Dueck Penner in Winnipeg. (Photo by Leona Dueck Penner)