Faith Works 1-15-11
Just Listen to That
With some business on the Newark campus of The Ohio State University, I was walking through the Reese Center and then the Warner Center, and had a few minutes in each to just stand, and wait, and watch.
There were probably a few students and staff who walked by me without phones, but they didn't stand out. The dominant experience was the vaguely Doppler-effect sound of one half of a conversation increasing in volume and clarity as the bent-armed walked came past me, then faded into the next passage or doorway . . . quickly replaced by the next.
This is not to say that every electronic conversationalist was moving along, and indifferent to nearby listeners. Even with temperatures flirting with single digits, some hovered outside around a corner for a motivation I can only put down to a desire for privacy, unless they just had a thing for frostbite. But they were keeping themselves warm with energetic talk.
My work done there, I got into my car and heading back towards downtown Newark along Granville Street, into the Five Points and down to Courthouse Square. Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't help but notice, at each intersection, and even oncoming traffic – it's something like two out of three drivers, if not a bit more in sum, holding a phone up to their ear while driving (I think) with their other hand.
It's amazing when you consider it from the viewpoint of the last few centuries, where like the World's Greatest Salesperson in the World, we used to have to carry our bulky dial phones over our shoulders on broad leather harnesses. But our signal strength was never what his seems to be.
Right, I'm kidding. We used to carry a dime in our Boy Scout first aid kit so we could make an emergency phone call from a booth (kids, don't even ask). I saw my first Motorola cell phone in 1977 and thought it was the coolest, sleekest thing – looked like a slimmed down, streamlined sewing machine, and weighed about as much, just without the cabinet.
Today, everyone: the guy in the beat-up pick-up ahead of you at the stop light, the coatless student sitting on a picnic table, the woman behind you in the express check-out, everyone has a cell phone, a smart phone, a connection, and they're all on the line (ha!) with someone, constantly.
Which is why we are communicating so well these days.
What do you mean, am I joking? Of course not, we're communicating at a frantic clip, words pouring forth, piling up, rising into the ether and erupting from devices in our hands or clipped around our ears. And that's why we all understand each other better, get along so well, work together so smoothly in groups and as families, and everything is cupcakes and puppies and unicorns, right? (Mmmm, cupcakes.)
I had piled up a bunch of Biblical citations I wanted to use here: Mt. 6:7, Eccl. 5:2, et cetera, et cetera, but you can look those up for yourself. What I want to say is simply a good word for . . . silence.
Winter is a fine time for a silent retreat, or just a day chosen to intentionally NOT speak. Maybe even a couple if you can pull it off.
"Is there enough silence for the word to be heard?" asked T.S. Eliot. For those who wonder how silence can speak, who hear about silent retreats and consider it wasted time, I can only ask "how's all our talking working out for us?"
One shouldn't talk on a phone while driving, let alone texting; beyond that, I have no interest in joining a general effort decrying phones and the internet and blogs and tweets, and there are many of them out there if I wanted to sign up. I'm really not sure they do much harm.
I just don't think they represent much communication, either, and I want to point that obvious point out to everyone. We're talking to each other more than ever, but we are losing our opportunities for, and perhaps our appreciation of, silence. I think we all need a little, perhaps some more than others, but everyone a bit, like iodine in our salt.
Find some silence for yourself before we head back into spring, and Lent, and sports, and the 2012 political prospects. Write a list, and don't call your spouse from the canned vegetables aisle. Walk out and listen to the snow fall, and hit the ground.
Did you know that you can hear that, if you listen?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he knows that preachers like silence more than most people would think! Quietly send e-mail this week to email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.