Philadelphia Inquirer (November 22, 2012)
Stepping out into the cold November night, I shut the door behind me and listen. Inside, muted voices laugh and reminisce; children holler; an uncle plays “Heart and Soul” on the piano. Outside, however, all is still save the winter wind. Trees sway, a honking goose passes by above, and the streets are empty. Society has gathered indoors this evening, giving thanks and stuffing hearts and bodies with the sustenance of family and food. Outside, the quieting season has arrived.
I breathe in the cool air on this smoke-filled night as chimneys exhale deep warm breaths. The fiery scent warms my soul. It is as if the night itself were one continuous benediction. I grab hold of the fleeting quiet, fearing its farewell.
For me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the quieting season. The natural world slows down with the coming of winter; squirrels squirrel away their collections of nuts; frogs find refuge under a muddy bed of leaves; bears take to their dens; and trees stand bare.
As nature goes, so should we. The season offers us a chance to embrace nature’s quiet and turn off the noise that invades our every waking moment. When we quiet our lives, we give ourselves a chance to reflect, contemplate, and simply be. Quieting is essential to our well-being.
Sadly, while many embrace this practice on Thanksgiving, by day’s end the noise begins to encroach on the quiet. And the noise is everywhere.
There’s Black Friday noise, which once reverently conceded a day of quiet to Thanksgiving. Not anymore: “Hurry up and carve the turkey, Grandpa. Walmart opens in an hour!” The noise also hit our front steps this morning with the heavy thud of circulars crammed into the day’s paper, and the clamor and clatter will begin in earnest when the stores’ doors begin to open tonight.
Noise has many disguises, and some of it is actually quiet in form. It has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, and we’ve unwittingly embraced it all.
There’s Facebook noise. Post-election noise. Continuous Christmas-caroling noise on the radio. TV noise, even in checkout lines and at gas pumps. Cellphone and text-message noise. Weather-forecast noise. Hectic-calendar noise. Donald Trump noise. Talk-radio noise. #StopTheNoise Twitter noise. Remote-control noise. Spam noise. Self-help noise.
Like a virus, noise is transmitted to us unnoticed, infects our bodies, and reaches a feverish pitch that makes us ill. There is no medicinal treatment for it; our bodies are left to their own defenses. So it is with noise. No one is going to stop it; we must do it for ourselves. After all, we have chosen much of the noise.
Sometimes we just need to choose quiet. If you’ve ever stumbled upon public television’s yearly fund-drive showing of Alone in the Wilderness and found yourself drawn to Dick Proenneke’s simple life in the Alaskan wilderness, you know the yearning to choose quiet. Sure, Proenneke impresses us by whittling a spoon or a log cabin with equal ease, but what truly transfixes viewers is the hunger to live his poetic life of quiet simplicity, even if only for a little while.
That little while can be now. After we gather with friends and family and fill ourselves with food and memories to last through the approaching winter days, the quieting season is upon us.
Let’s seize the silence, mute the noise, and listen to the quiet of the soul. We might be surprised by how much it has to say.