On Peace and Quiet

When I think of the word peace, I always think next of the word quiet.

I’ve always been someone who is extraordinarily sensitive to sound. As a student I would find myself distracted by the rhythmic clicking of a pen all the way over the other side of the lecture theater. Even now, any tapping or drumming of fingers tends to draw my attention with all the constant compulsion that magnets offer iron. Out in public I must sometimes make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact with the person I am speaking with, or I will find myself glancing around, restless as a sparrow, monitoring the source of every other sound that is playing its squeaky shrieky part in the symphony of background noise.

I crave quiet.

They say that you never fully appreciate what you have until it’s gone, but that’s not always true. I often notice and appreciate the gentle companionship of quiet. When I hear my damp bare feet meet our wooden floors after I get out of the shower at dawn, it reminds me to exhale gratitude for these brief still moments before the day really wakes up. Last year, as I stretched my way through prenatal yoga poses, I always thrilled to the heavy silence of the empty house. When I was pregnant and living at my parent’s place, I would open the bathroom window when I got up at night to listen to the slippery rustle of the breeze taunting the leaves in the tall stand of gum trees. Then I’d shut the window again, because given a choice I will always choose silence as a sleep companion even over the nocturnal music of this magical world.

Quiet for me is not just the absence of noise; it is a calming presence that prompts me to pay attention, to feel the act of breathing, to listen out for thoughts and feelings dancing hand in hand through my head. Quiet reminds me to live rather than just exist.

I am pretty good about being present where I am, but on those rare occasions when I indulge in fantasies of being elsewhere I always think of beaches, of cabins in woods, of the hushed sigh of falling snow or the grace notes that are the pop and hiss of a fire on a cold night. I think of my parents’ house. I never find myself longing for the efficient clamour of the London underground or the din and bustle of New York with its agile taxis and steaming hot dog carts and moving, throbbing energy. Those cities have their own charm, but I never find myself longing for them. I long for the still, silent places.

On the whole, Asia is not a still, silent place. Luang Prabang is by no means Jakarta or Bangkok, but it is a place of near neighbors and thin walls. It is a place of barking dogs, roosters, axes in wood, coconuts on tin roofs, motorcycles, and a cultural more that says you’re not having fun unless people in Vietnam can hear your music playing. It is a place of power tools running right outside our kitchen window.

Silence often brings me peace. This sort of peace comes easily, as a gift, but silence is not the only courier of peace. There is also peace hard won in defiance of noise, peace chosen in the face of fear, peace found in a seemingly barren wilderness of grief.

This I believe.

But sometimes that belief falters on days when I am serenaded by the shrill screech of power saws, or I think for too long about the lack of good medical care in this country, or I receive the news that a friend has lost his mortal battle with leukemia, leaving behind a much beloved wife and two little boys. Sometimes peace seems an elusive chimera indeed.

What does the word “peace” mean to you? What brings you peace?

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9 responses to “On Peace and Quiet

  1. YOU brought us peace. And will continue to bring me peace.

    • You are so heavy on my heart at the moment. I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought of you all these past days, weeks, and months. And you, this week, more than hourly. Mike and I are praying for you.

  2. Hi Lisa! I’m sensitive to sound, too. Especially since traveling in Africa, when I was often lacking quiet, I look for it everywhere. I hate the radio being so loud. I don’t see a need for TV for “background noise.” I work in complete quiet. Wonder how this will change once I have kids 🙂

    • Yeah, not a fan of the TV for background noise either. Music, yeah, sometimes. And as for kids. Yes… Mike asked me the other day if Dominic banging the plastic toys on the table was annoying me and I told him that pretty much anything D did to keep himself happily entertained was fine by me, especially since I was “only” trying to talk to him.

  3. Hi Lisa – Yes Silence is Golden – wasn’t there a song about this?
    Moments with my new computer – testing out all the options etc – in the silence of the Australian country night – found my way to you – can’t stop reading all you have writted – how amazing you are and have been – my love to you all – so beautiful to see you both and your little man. All Blessings for 2012 – Much Love Snto

    • Thanks Santo… I would imagine it is especially fun for you to see the smiles of those little ones you helped deliver. So glad you’re visiting the blog and hope you’re well and happy.

  4. Peace.
    With four children in the house, peace is something that I have to find within myself, rather than in my surroundings. I also have to -somehow – bring that peace to my household when there are fights, arguments and all the daily niggles and frustrations that living with small children entails. And then I need to teach my kids how to find that peace for themselves… it’s a rare person that it comes naturally to. As for quiet, I HUGELY enjoy it on the very rare occasions that I find it!
    The only way I can find that peace is in God. And when I’m changing the toddlers’ nappy, with 2 other fighting children in the room I can’t go and have a 30min prayer time to find God and get the peace I need, I have had to learn how to get it almost instantly. And after 8yrs of practise (and mothering), I still often forget and surrender to the frustration instead of fighting for the peace.. it’s an odd phrase, ‘fighting for the peace’ but an accurate one.
    I have a mental picture of how it works, spiritually speaking. My day looks like me running through a forest, dodging low branches and jumping over fallen ones. going as fast as I can to get done what I need to by the end of the day. But along the way are what I call peace pools – small but very deep, like a diving pool – and I don’t even stop running, just jump straight in. And it’s like being enveloped in the peace of God. No noise, no one else there, and somehow the pool is much bigger under the water than it is on the surface and no matter how far I look in any direction, all I can see is blue. Ahhhhhhhhh… submerged and engulfed in the love and peace of God. And then I jump out and carry on running, because outside the pool the children are still fighting and the nappy still needs changing, but now I have the resources to deal with the situation without losing my cool!
    I seem to have written a small novel, sorry!

  5. Pingback: Momentary Memory « the world azis

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