We live in such a noisy world. There’s all this stuff roiling around us, demanding our attention: mobile phones, games and apps, the internet, muzak … and people. People, people, people everywhere we turn, it seems. They stand around the aisles at the supermarket or chat loudly in the doctor’s office waiting room — and, sometimes, even in the restroom! I think humans are more constantly “in touch” with each other than ever before, which, at first, seems like a wonderful and incredible thing. After you get past that first glance, when the “honeymoon period” with technology is over, that wonderful blessing seems to be more of a double-edged sword.
Eventually, I think most of us turn around to see all of this stuff and all of these people crowding in on us and realize, “I am never alone.” It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Of course, we’re never alone. Why would that come as a big shock or surprise? I guess it shouldn’t, but I find epiphanies are sometimes like that for me. I can go along my merry way, living in situations that are less than ideal for my spirit without truly realizing this is the case. I’m not sure if I willfully ignore the truth of my life, or if I search so hard for the silver lining in things that I end up fooling myself. Whatever the reason, there are times when I look around, and it hits me like a brick right between the eyes: “Wow … There are a lot of people around here. And a lot of stuff going on. All the time.”
I had one of these pops of reality a couple of days ago, when I was waiting in my dermatologist’s waiting room. Doctors always run behind, and I arrived about fifteen minutes before my appointment time, as is my habit. I knew I would have to wait, so I brought a book with me. This is a book I recently started reading, and I like it a lot. I look forward to moments during the day when I can take a bit of a break from life in order to lose myself in its pages. Needless to say, I typically don’t have trouble concentrating on this book — at all.
And you know what happened? I could not manage to read anything because the waiting room was too loud. There were people sitting near me, who were discussing their varying skin problems (all of them icky-sounding). If I had been on the opposite side of a crowded room from them, I would have been able to hear their conversations clearly. Instead, we were in a small space, which was designed for quiet. It felt like these people were talking inside my head. There was background music, which, if it had remained in the background, would have been pleasant. Instead, the music had been cranked up to the point where it was obtrusive — probably in an effort to drown out the loud-talkers. After I read the same paragraph five times, I gave up on my book, resigned to spending the remainder of my waiting-room time without entertainment.
And it got me to thinking about how hard it is, in our society, to find true silence and solitude. We are never alone. Even when we think we are alone — in the privacy of our homes, for example — we aren’t. Because our “smart” phones are always there, leaving the world just a quick call, text, or email away, binging at us with cheerful reminders that the world is always out there, waiting for us.
I grew up in the country, and my only sibling is nine years older than me, which, virtually, made me an only child. Silence and solitude were not hard to come by during my childhood. I had a horse, and I can remember riding out on a spring morning. My horse and I would cross our driveway and the dirt road in front of our house, and, within a short distance, we would be “nowhere”. If you’ve never been there before, let me tell you: Nowhere is a great place to be.
Our little dirt road wasn’t well traveled, but, once we arrived at “Nowhere”, there wasn’t any chance of seeing or hearing a car. Depending on how hot it was, I would hear insect noises and the rustling of the tall grass around us. If my dog had followed me, I would hear the clinking of his tags and his happy snuffles as he followed his nose to seek out rabbits or armadillos or any other little critters that might be nearby for a fun chase. I would hear birds singing and twittering from low-hanging branches as we passed by. The creak of saddle leather and the steady clopping of hooves against the ground seemed loud compared to the nature sounds around us, but they were comforting noises. It was hard not to fall in love with everything around me: with the world, with nature, with the huge and amazing wonder of it all, and with life. I often felt I was the luckiest person in the universe, which probably explains why I spent so much time out there with my horse, because I didn’t feel particularly lucky or grand in other parts of my life.
I didn’t realize, at the time, how lucky I was. I didn’t realize how precious silence and solitude were. I think I took it all for granted. It never occurred to me that my life might not always be that way. I’m not sure I really thought about any of it; I was a kid, after all. But, if I did stop to think about it, I probably would have believed I would always live in the country. I expected to have that kind of life: small, but in a good way, and close to nature. It is not the kind of life I ended up with, that’s for sure!
Now, I look back on those early morning rides and I realize how blessed I was to experience such peace and beauty. As an adult, I realize what an incredible gift it all was, and I wonder if I’ll ever find my way back to a place of solitude and silence. Because I miss it.