Like finding the perfect home, the quest for quiet would seem to be about location. But in our noise-driven world, the peace we try to carve out of the chaos around us often is disturbed by all manner of sound.
Neighborhoods touted by realtors as “quiet” can easily erupt into auditory mayhem, especially on weekends when power tools and lawn equipment emerge from garages. Or, when a new family arrives on the block with two barking dogs and installs an outdoor sound system. Even rural dwellers learn that not all people move out of the city for the same reason when they discover their neighbor’s idea of country living is having a place to race ATVs, or a winter night’s stillness is broken by the whine of snowmobiles.
So what to do if you are a quiet-seeker dwelling among people who are fond of two-cycle engines and loud music?
Having lived in urban and small-town neighborhoods as well as the country, my husband and I have found that talking with persistent noisemakers does not typically bring about a lasting peace. First of all, one person’s noise is another’s delightful distraction or good clean fun. For example, a family member who lives near an airport and railroad tracks tells us he loves hearing large planes fly over his house and the rumble of a train in the not-so-far distance.
Because those who create what seems like excessive noise to some of us do not often take kindly to suggestions that they lower the volume, lovers of quiet sometimes have no choice but to leave a noisy place, either permanently, which is not always practical, or temporarily.
Although I live in what, for the moment at least, is a mostly peaceful setting, I’ve always had quiet escapes. When I was a suburban dweller, my favorite getaway spots included a park with wooded trails, one of which had a stand of pines with an inviting opening that seemed to breathe calm. Another of my escapes was cycling out to an area where I could sit on the sand and listen to the water lapping against the shore. When I worked in a windowless cubicle in a newspaper office, I would sometimes use my breaks to take walks or sit by a fountain in a downtown park. In less pleasant weather, the public library was a ready refuge. Even now, if I am in the midst of a busy schedule of errands and appointments, stopping at an art gallery, a museum, or a bookstore offers some respite from the rush.
These pockets of peace, I have found, make it possible to endure the noise, whether it’s in a neighborhood, a work environment, or my own mind. If I can slip into one for 15 minutes or an hour, I can return to the madness refreshed and renewed.
This is obviously an imperfect solution, especially for those of us who have created some quiet space in our homes and feel as if we are being driven from it by others’ predilection for noise. Gail, a reader of my recent post on “Engaging Silence” said after long, stressful days at work, she craves the quiet of home and yard, listening to water from a fountain and bird song. Sometimes, however, she can’t even hear those sounds because of “everything from blowers to mowers to motorcycles and blaring music.”
In such cases, when you can’t flee, I’d like to think it’s possible to minimize the audio-annoyances around us by cultivating and calling upon some interior peace. The friend who serves as a guide for this blog did this recently when, as she said, she was “anticipating noise” from new neighbors who moved in and parked several vehicles in their driveway. As she thought about what this might mean, she was able to make peace with the prospect of more noise, much as she does when the neighbor children and their friends play all summer long in the common space outside her sun porches.
I saw evidence of this a few weeks ago when I noticed two nuns from a local monastery at one of those enormous warehouse stores that specialize in bulk everything. Unlike the other shoppers I encountered that day, these two had an air of serenity as they pushed their cart through the cavernous, sometimes overwhelming store. They were identifiable by their religious garb, but almost more by the gentleness that they exuded. I felt more calm and able to deal with the dizzying display of merchandise just by having encountered them.
Although their days are filled with many of the mundane tasks the rest of us perform — preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning, gardening, and in this case, shopping – they do most of their work in silence, interspersing it with periods of prayer.
We can draw something from their way of life, I think, without moving to the cloister. The women I met that day were not rattled, rushed, or rude when I approached them to ask if they were indeed from the nearby monastery. They were welcoming, open, and unhurried, as if we had met in the cloister.
In her memoir, Redeemed, writer Heather King says, “I am pretty sure that if everyone did a few simple things – observed an hour of silence, prayed for an hour, looked, really looked, for an hour each day – the world would be transformed.”
We can’t all be contemplative nuns, but we can do some of what they do by taking an hour a day to be quiet and to look, really look, and — just maybe — be transformed and bring the quiet we cherish to our noisy world.