The Suitcase Lady


May 18, 2010, 9:00 pm

I am a believer in silence and its soulmate, solitude. That doesn’t mean that I can’t give Chatty Cathy a run for her money. And it certainly doesn’t  imply I don’t love being with friends and family. But I do believe that I could never get a creative thought in my head again without quiet times.

Silence is not an American value. I recently pulled into a gas station with a friend who doesn’t drive. She began laughing hysterically when I lifted the nozzle and the gas pump started to talk to me; first a sales pitch and then blaring music.

“Has it come to this?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “and I can’t even shut this pump up. Some,” I informed her, “have a mute switch.”

As much as I dislike constant noise, I am highly suspicious of those who take a vow of silence for whatever reason. Since peacefully communicating with our fellow beings on the planet is the hardest thing any of us attempt, not speaking doesn’t seem particularly virtuous to me. Even the Old Testament admonishes that there is “a time to keep silent and a time to speak.”

In the course of my work, I drive many hundreds of miles each week. I’ve been asked if this isn’t boring. On the contrary, I see it as luxurious quiet time. I’m quite comfortable with what’s going on in my head. For many years, I didn’t even have a car radio.

Besides, silence really isn’t quiet. Unless you are some place like the moon or the Atacama Desert, silence just makes the small sounds noticeable. Bird singing, insects serenading, cats purring, waves lapping, raindrops falling and coffee dripping down all jump in to fill the void.

Silence isn’t golden; it’s not even silver. But interludes of silence would appear to be a catalyst for having a life of the mind.

The French essayist, Jean de La Bruyere, gets the last word. He said, “It is a great misfortune neither to have enough wit to talk well nor enough judgement to be silent.”

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