When Silent Night plays through scratchy speakers, my arms are full of ribbons and wrappings and stuff that seems both necessary and not.
I know the music is canned, played over and over to wrench mood and money from frazzled shoppers like me. In this elbowed crowd, my resistance is low and I’m broadsided by children singing, sweet and serene.
Sometimes a music box version turns me inside out, my knees buckled in a gentle sort of grief. I am in a church, or driving a dark road, or in the center of a busy store. I am washed in a soft yielding. Today, under fluorescent lights, I am near tears, aching.
You know this too, don’t you? A song. A gesture. An everyday act that, in this season, delivers a mix of longing and love. While everything threshes and thrums, it's a gift, really, to hold tenderness as it carves through you.
I find myself repeating these words: “There’s no rush.”
But, of course, there is. Everything is verb: shop, wrap, pack, prepare, cook, wash, dress, drive, eat, drink, smile, repeat. When we slow enough to feel, we feel too much. The power of quiet is in what it reveals, a crystalline quality that clarifies.
Almost always, I’m hungry for quiet. On road trips and day drives, my eyes search the landscape for library and church. I like them modest, small. And empty. I don't usually go in, but I like to know calm stands still and willing.
“Chapels are emergency rooms for the soul,” writes Pico Iyer in Where Silence is Sacred. “They are the one place we can reliably go to find who we are and what we should be doing with our own lives—usually by finding all we aren’t.”
Tonight, fishing boats dot the winter horizon, and I find comfort in bright lights against a pitch sky.
How to quiet the mind from its endless babble? How to still the flutter, the caw? To just be is difficult. Is essential. Quiet has its pull.
“My feeling is that the paths of poetry and of meditation are closely linked,” says Jane Hirshfield. “One is an attentiveness and awareness that exists in language — the other an attentiveness and awareness that exists in silence, but each is a way to attempt to penetrate experience thoroughly, to its core.”
In these days of early dark sets a nest of sadness, and one-by-one we place our hearts in the spot tangled with loss, and longing, and grief.
Silent night, indeed.
“I try to take time to let go, to listen, in much the same way that I listen when I am writing,” writes Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water. “This is praying time, and the act of listening in prayer is the same as listening in writing.”
Increasingly, I seek this intersection.
Driving home last night, a brilliant light hung low in the sky. Is it a star, we wondered, or plane, or planet, or god? I wanted to believe it was the north star (though we were heading south) and that it carried meaning and message.
Star of wonder, I whispered, wishing.
We traveled through the dark, the light leading us home.