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Clyde, Time Was: Listen carefully for the sounds of silence

Time was, we knew when to be quiet. Why is it so hard to find solitude? Can you handle the empty quietness? Nothing, no sound, as quiet as the driven snow, only a few tiny wrens scratching in the icy, cold ground, scanning the frozen earth for a bit of anything to fill their beaks.

“No welcome sound of toil or mirth unbound the spell and testified of human life and thought outside. We minded that the sharpest ear the buried brooklet could not hear.” (John Greenleaf Whittier)

After a commercial Christmas and a whoop-de-do New Year, we need a little sound of silence, thank you, Mr. Garfunkel.

How can you put a little quietude in your life? First, go out back — alone, preferably, and on new fallen snow — and listen. Really listen. Permeating, prevailing, endless nothingness. Hard of hearing or deaf mute, no primal scream therapy necessary. It’s cost effective. Nonmandatory, nontaxable and nonconforming. We were born quiet and we haven’t quit trying to get in the last word edgewise.

Somewhere in between we lost control and got too loud. It’s not hard to be quiet. No banging, barking, bawling, bashing, bantering, bullying, begging, booming, blabbering, beguiling, backbiting, bad-tempered beating, bewailing, barrage of ballistics, blaspheming, or boohooing bedlam. Just oh so quiet. So quiet you can hear a pin drop. So quiet you can hear a whisper. Shhhh.

Pssst, can you hear me now? “Git” quiet, now, ya hear? The sound of nothing, wings of hummingbirds or snowbirds. A kind of hush comes over your corner of the Earth. The challenge is to find a spot where trees fall and no one hears them. Go where your eyes search the horizon with long shadows of the golden hour of last light, right before the dark. “Be still and know that I am God.”

Quiet has been around for a long time. A 17th century Spanish priest, Molinos, invented Quietism. Not many converts still around. It got too noisy in the real world. Staying quiet is another thing. Timeout in the corner with your nose in a circle or a dunce hat on your head kept you quiet for as long as that humiliation lasted. Some parents made you hold hands with the one you fought, which made matters worse. You wanted revenge.

Wonder if those hari krishnas ever met a Buddhist who could be quiet forever? Uhummmm. Where did all the Moonies go, long time passing? Why do we always put peace and quiet together? Where are they kept until released into decibels? Not on the whir of I-85. Not with noisy leaf blowers at 7 a.m. Not with 500 million tweets per day archived in the Library of Congress. But rather in ancient churches.

“For a time everything is hushed, but soon is heard the deep, pervading sound of the organ, rolling and vibrating … and the sweet chanting of the choir making them resound with melody and praise. Never have I been more sensible of the sanctifying effect of church music than when I have heard it thus poured forth, like a river of joy … elevating it from all the sordid pollutions of the week and bearing the poor world-worn soul on a tide of triumphant harmony to heaven.” (Washington Irving)

So quieten down for the New Year. Don’t let those rappers get to you. Just be glad they don’t live next door. Or maybe they do. Listen for the tintinnabulation of those church bells, even the fake ones; and take quiet walks in woods you do not know, by a frozen lake, early on a frosty morn in Dixie. A quiet path can open to roads not taken.

From Christina Rossetti:

Frosty wind made moan;

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone,

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter, long, long ago.

Whisper when you say that.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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