Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Cost of Silence

I’ve begun to realize you can listen to silence and learn from it; it has a quality and a dimension all its own. Anonymous

Silence is hard to find. I came across this unascribed quote on the internet and paused a moment to reflect on whether or not I believed it. As I did so, I heard the kick-plate heater in the kitchen blowing warm air, a truck passing by the house, my wife scraping butter onto our morning toast, and water boiling on the stove.

I also realized that if those sounds were not there, there is a constant whooshing in my ears I’ve always had. The technical term is tinnitus, but I suspect it is just the sound the wind makes as it blows from one ear through to the other.

In any case, while some people think better when they’ve got things going on in the background, I don’t. I find too much noise quite distracting. That’s somewhat ironic as I find I am losing my hearing ever more as I age.

I looked outside a few minutes ago and saw the full moon setting just to the west of us over the hills and said, “Hey honey,” (my wife was sitting next to me), “look at that gorgeous moon!”

She said, “I just told you that.”

“Oh, maybe that’s what caused me to look,” I replied (chagrined by my complete lack of awareness that she had even been speaking to me).

That often happens when I am reading or writing, of course. My mind (such as it is) is occupied and the twenty or so remaining synapses struggle to multitask. I can read, I can write, or I can listen. “Pick one” says the gray matter. Of course, I don’t listen to it; I just go back to reading, writing, or … ha! You thought I was going to say “listening,” but I already told you – I like silence!

Anyway, life goes on and whether or not I can hear well, I haven’t found it to be all that detrimental to my life – at least not the “mental” part of detrimental.

Having said all that, I should add that not all silence is golden. Sometimes it is important to break one’s silence and speak. As the Bible says, “There is a time to keep silent, and a time to speak up” (Eccl. 3:7)

One of my great-nieces shared a concern on social media about bullying in her school, and the trauma it was causing a number of her friends. She wondered what she could do about it.

Bullying is a scourge, of course, and not a time for silence. One must be prepared to speak up and act. Speaking without acting is hollow.

One day, back when the earth was still cooling, I was in elementary school at recess and several classmates were picking on one of the poorer kids. Gary came to school wearing shabby clothes, unkempt hair, and often looked a mess. He was not a friend of mine, but I knew who he was. As these two goons went about punching him (the school monitor was nowhere to be seen), I felt I had to do something, so I ambled over and told them to knock it off.

They stopped, looked at me, and shifted the focus of their assault. I would love to say I creamed them, but we exchanged a few body blows; they got tired and bored, and finally left. I dropped my hands and looked around and Gary was nowhere to be seen. That irritated me; I’d come to his rescue and he’d abandoned the field!

Interestingly, nothing more happened and that was the first, last, and only fight I ever got into in school. I don’t know if it stopped the bullies, and Gary and I never did become friends, buddies, allies, or anything else. But I don’t believe he was ever hassled again that I saw, and that was reward enough for me.

I don’t know what the answer to bullying is, but I know that dealing with it as best one can is important. We each need to stand up, speak, and act for one another, for if nothing changes, then nothing will change and that’s too high a price to pay for silence here in this, our valley.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rebooting Life

I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Nehemiah 13:19

The other day I turned on the dishwasher at the church so that, after a meeting, we could quickly wash our dishes and leave. Unfortunately, the machine gave me an error code when I turned it on. I didn’t have the manual, so I couldn’t decipher the message on a for-sure basis, but knew I would have to call the repair service to either talk me through it, or schedule an appointment for them to come fix it.

There was a time in my life I would have gotten peeved or bent out of shape over that sort of thing, but these days they mostly roll off my back like water off the back of the proverbial duck. And why not? I’m mostly quackers anyway.

The point is that life has its challenges big and small, and there’s no use wasting energy on things over which we have no control. If I’m tempted to get upset, I just pull the Serenity Prayer out of my spiritual knapsack and offer my prayer to God: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

That prayer is and has been a life-saver. I can’t keep a machine from breaking down, but I can call for repair. I can’t control the cost of the repair, but I can find and hit the device’s reset button (if it has one) before I make the call. I can’t tell the repair man or woman what to do to effect the repair (since I have no knowledge or expertise in the matter), but I can stand by and hand them tools if that helps, or my silence (if that speeds them up).

There are worse things in life than having a dishwasher that doesn’t work. Of course, I say that as a man who prefers to hand wash dishes. On the other hand, if the microwave were to break down, now THAT would be catastrophic!

Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The hardest part of the serenity prayer is that “wisdom to know the difference” part.

Wisdom seems to be in especially short supply these days. I think it’s because we don’t do enough reflecting as a culture. We’re really into the insanity of the instantaneous.

We want everything, and we want it now. I am not immune to that, of course. When I get up in the morning, the very first thing I do is grab a cup of yesterday’s coffee and nuke it so I’ve got something to drink while the fresh pot is brewing. There is an unwritten rule in our house; the best way to approach me before my first cup of coffee is summed up in one word: DON’T!

Reflection takes time. It requires stopping to think, ponder, and cogitate.

When our children were young, we would sometimes play Hide-and-go-seek. We’d tell them they had thirty seconds or a minute to go hide, and then we’d say, “Go!”

At the word “Go” they would start spinning like whirling dervishes trying to figure where to run off to. That was adrenaline doing the spinning. When the adrenaline hits the bloodstream, blood rushes to the large muscles (legs and arms) as part of the Fight-or-Flight reflex. When blood rushes to the muscles, it is taken from the frontal lobe of the brain. That’s why people who panic do such stupid things.

Now, when one is jumped by a grizzly bear or a T-Rex, that adrenaline rush is a good thing. But when it comes to solving problems, it can be a bad thing, because it can result in scrambled thinking or “spinning our wheels.” So, unless one is faced with a life or death crisis, it pays to slow down, stop, take a cleansing breath to give our blood a large draught of oxygen, and think.

I pray that 2017 will be a year we reflect more and respond less; pause more and whirl less; breathe more and bleed less. May this be a year God helps us to reboot our lives, regain our sanity, and reset the dishwasher of our minds for Wisdom’s sake in this, our valley.