Danny Heitman’s “At Random”: Contentment can come in staying put

While there’s never a good time to get the flu, it’s a special drudgery on Easter, when the world sings of resurrection, and there you are, shivering under a quilt, thinking not of pastel eggs and chocolate rabbits, but Advil, cough drops and a long day in a quiet house.

Knowing that I was best left alone, the rest of the family went to in-laws for the holiday last month, and the terrier and I stayed behind, passing the hours in rooms as still as a barn at twilight.

The dog scurried to the door and barked each time a car drove down the street, perhaps hoping that it would pull into our driveway to relieve the boredom. Feeling better, but not up for real company, I sat at the dining room table with a laptop, catching up on some work since there was not much else to do.

The view out the window, blessedly, brought a welcome diversion. Out on the patio, a succession of mockingbirds alighted on our leatherleaf mahonia, a large shrub with purple fruit that looks like the stylized grapes of Renaissance paintings. The fruit is a magnet for birds each spring — especially the mockingbirds who line the branches and swing their big tail feathers as eagerly as a beagle angling for a bone.

Some catbirds came for lunch at the mahonia, too — the first catbirds I’d seen at our place after nearly two decades of living there. Catbirds are battleship grey, have black button eyes and get their name from their song, which is like the soft mewing of a feline. I probably wouldn’t have seen the catbirds if the flu had not grounded me. From this experience came a small revelation: I am often not truly rooted to the house where I live unless some rare illness forces me to be still. Maybe real wisdom and awareness will come when I’m able to sit and watch and think by choice, not necessity.

Last week, I offered a few words of praise here for Frances Mayes, the travel author best known for writing “Under the Tuscan Sun,” her account of an idyllic life in provincial Italy. Mayes’ new book, “Under Magnolia,” is about the equally enriching life she’s built in her second home in North Carolina.

Mayes, so acclaimed as a travel writer, reflects on the good that can also come from staying home. She recalls the unhappiness of her parents, a troubled couple who seemed intent on leaving home because they were trying to outrun their anxieties.

“Did they never want to stay home and play mah-jongg, make an omelet, and read?,” she asks.

Mayes suggests that true contentment can express itself in our occasional willingness to stay put.

Summer spins us outward — to beaches and mountains, amusement parks and painted deserts. All good things, no doubt, but I’ll also try to make some more time in coming months for the view from our dining room window. There’s no telling what I’ve been missing while making other plans.