The Lost Virtues of Porch Sitting
Why do so few people just sit on their porches and watch the world anymore?
That question came to me the other day when I went to visit my elderly parents at the old Pennsylvania farmhouse where I grew up.
My folks are in their eighties now and are fortunate enough to still be in the same house where they’ve lived for fifty years.
I went there on a warm September evening to mow their front lawn. When I pulled into the driveway, there they were on the porch, perched on their rocking chairs as evening drew on.
My parents have been porch-sitting for as long as I can remember, although they’ve had more time for it as they have grown older.
They porch sit mostly in the evenings, to talk, to reflect upon the day, to wave to the neighbors. To just sit and enjoy the fresh air.
This is a generation that grew up before the dawning of Eastern philosophies and practices in the West. My folks couldn’t tell you much about yoga and meditation and mindfulness that are today all the rage with people of my age and younger.
But my folks know the virtues of porch-sitting. They saw their parents and grandparents sitting on their front porches, and they continue to carry on the lost tradition.
They sit on that front porch without gadgets of any kind. No smartphones. No tablets. No WiFi. It’s just them, the porch, the chairs, and the view.
Meanwhile, our generation hurriedly runs from place to place, getting our kids to sports games, going to yoga classes, filling up every waking moment with work and extracurricular activities to maintain our lifestyles and keep up with the Jones.
Who are the enlightened ones?
The view from my parents’ porch has changed over the years. When they first moved there in the mid-1960s, the field across the street was occupied only by rabbits and deer.
Then development moved in. The old farmhouse acquired neighbors. Houses with porches. People with families.
Many of those houses have had multiple occupants over the years. My folks have watched them come and go from the vantage of their front porch.
There is a history there, on that porch – a deepness and richness of watched and witnessed experience – that is so often lost in our restless rabbit culture where we hop from job to job, from city to city.
My mother is more the porch-sitter than my father, although he likes it too, especially in the years since he retired. Many a time I have visited the old homestead and found my mother sitting on her porch rocker silently doing her novenas, praying for whatever urgent cause needs praying for.
There have been many such causes over the years. Illnesses, injuries, accidents, job losses, divorces. Trials and tribulations of all shapes and sizes. The novenas have always gotten us through.
When I was going through a terrible dark time during my divorce, I sat many an evening with my mother on that porch. I spoke of my despair, my feelings of hopelessness. She spoke calmly to me of how happy and peaceful I would be when I got “to the other side” of what I was going through. I just needed to be patient, to have faith, to look for gratitude in the little things.
She was right, though it didn’t feel possible at the time. I got through to the other side. And it is blissful indeed.
From my parents – my mother, mostly – I have learned of the power of prayer and porches. A porch is a place for talking through problems. Sitting on a front porch, with a view of the bigger world, seems to give perspective on a problem. It’s like getting out of your own head.
From porch-sitting, I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do with a problem is sit with it. Stop trying to figure it out. Stop trying to solve it. Just sit with it. Allow it to be there. Allow it to resolve and heal, as all wounds do, eventually, when left alone.
Porch-sitting is a form of meditation. Of stillness. Of leaving behind our restless monkey minds and entering the precious present moment.
There is power in porches. When I bought my house ten years ago, I made sure it had a big front porch like the house where I grew up. I sit there as much as I can. And when I do, I immediately feel more peaceful.
If you have a front porch (and I hope you do), I encourage you to spend some time there.
The view is awesome. Trust me.