Enjoy the Silence

Issue No. 12 | May 13, 2022

Friends, Americans, Countrymen:

Long ago we were invited to dine at our professor’s house along with some other students. During coffee, the phone on his wall began to ring (this was in the pre-digital age). What sticks in the mind now is both how remarkable this intrusion was (could the phone really have rung only once all night?) and the fury of his reaction. He picked up the receiver without listening to it and slammed it back down. After a dramatic pause: “Isn’t it amazing that any idiot with a dime can make a bell ring in your house?”


Wonder how he’s doing these days, now that we’ve made that bell portable – and open to any idiot with wi-fi. The constant “updates” we get don’t announce themselves with the same shrill insistence as an analog phone, but that makes their brand of noise all the more insidious. As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in “The Power of Silence:”


“Noise is a deceptive, addictive, and false tranquilizer. The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence. This age detests the things that silence brings us to: encounter, wonder, and kneeling before God.” 


Like everyone else, we’ve gotten used to the incessant chatter. But at least we have our memories: eight or so of us sitting in the candlelight, our only source of “news” (for better or worse) each other.


Silence is hard to come by, especially if you live in a large urban or suburban area. Or even if you simply live with other people: nothing is so irritating as the blaring soundtrack of someone else’s streamed entertainment. 


A good pair of American-made earplugs from Decibullz can help. Designed to mold to the contours of your ears after you apply a little heat, they offer one of the highest levels of hearing protection on the market: whether you’re shooting, operating heavy machinery, or simply trying to pretend you never agreed to put that 54-inch “smart TV” in the bedroom.  


Men famously bond by doing things together; woman prefer to talk. You may have noticed that our default notion of dating – dinner, drinks – tends to favor the strengths of the fairer sex. What is it with them, anyway?  Is conversation all they ever think about?


One way to level the playing field when planning your next date or “date night” is to choose something a little more active. Like bocce. The rules are simple to learn, and the game doesn’t offer a significant advantage to either sex. It’s challenging enough to provide a frisson of friendly competition, but not so involved that you can’t also drink beer or even talk (if she insists). And you can play in the backyard with your own set, or on an official court in a park or bar. Haven’t found a worthy opponent yet? Try joining one of the many leagues around the country. 


Lucky is the traveler who finds lifelong New Yorker Timothy “Speed” Levitch as his guide. Levitch, the subject of the 1998 documentary “The Cruise,”  doesn’t try to explain the chaos of his hometown as much as he embodies it, treating his captive audience to a poetic, funny, surreal, and sometimes even informative (the height of the Empire State Building varies with his mood)  stream-of-consciousness monologue. His description of Central Park is a subtle plea for a less utilitarian way of life, and is especially poignant some 25 years later:


“The men who build and design this park are Transcendentalists, to them Central Park is a place to become one with nature…No sweating allowed in the original Central Park…Anyone you see bicycling, rollerblading, jogging, they are not historically accurate. Anyone you see lounging in the sun, having a picnic, or kissing, they are historically accurate.” 


Technology has given us more opportunities to express our opinions than at any other time in human history; it’s also confronted us with what little practical use most of those opinions have. When was the last time someone had their mind changed by a Twitter argument? 


California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Briggs didn’t try to argue Kevin Berthia out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead, he simply let him talk. “Somehow the compassion in your voice is what allowed me to kinda let my guard down enough for us to have a conversation,” Berthia later told Briggs. After 90 minutes, Berthia came down off the railing.  


In his 23-year career (he retired in 2013 and now works in suicide prevention), Briggs kept more than 200 people from jumping to their deaths. His typical opening was to ask, “What’s your plan for tomorrow?” If they didn’t have one, he would respond, “Well, let’s make one. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back here later.” That so many took his advice is a testament both to Briggs’ skill and to the power of offering someone our full, focused attention. 

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