The Gift of Silence

By Tracy L. Carbone

There’s a line from the Desiderata by Max Ehrmann that says, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” This was never demonstrated better than on, oddly enough, one of my early morning subway rides a couple of weeks ago.

The morning started when my commuter rail a/k/a Purple Line arrived twenty minutes late to my town. Surprisingly, no one seemed all that bothered by the delay. It was a very cold day, in the teens, and until the train came most of us waited patiently in our cars. I blasted the thermostat in my Mini Cooper, cranked my heated seats to high, and was happy for the extra time to dry my hair with the vents, and put my makeup on. Once the train came, we boarded and  the ride after that was uneventful.

As is my custom, I took a nap for most of the commute and stared out the window and contemplated my day with the rest of it. Most people on the morning train are pretty quiet, including that baby girl who commutes with her mom to the city. A lot of times I feel like it’s Nursery School nap time and we all can’t help but succumb to it: this morning mediation “Quiet TIme.”

About an hour later, I was off the commuter rail and on the Green Line on the way to my office in Boston. I only go two stops which takes about three minutes. In warm weather I just walk, but as I said, that day was brutally cold. We arrived at the first stop then left for the second, but the train halted. It wasn’t an abrupt stop, just a pause.

A good five minutes went by before it hit me that the car was completely still. Most everyone else seemed oblivious too, caught up in their own thoughts.  No one said a word. Some people fell asleep standing up, seemed grateful for the extra few minutes of the delay. Others behaved as I did, just sort of looked around the car, made eye contact, nodded and smiled. Finally, the conductor made an announcement that the car ahead was disabled and we’d be holding a few more minutes.

I awaited the barrage of complaints, the whines of stranded commuters, the calls to bosses or secretaries in the LOUD voice that, damn the MBTA, they were going to be late. But none came, no one said anything. There was no grumbling, or even talking. Just total and contented silence. The only sounds at all, from that very crowded subway car, was the muffled but loud beat emanating from someone’s IPOD speakers, and the occasional rustle of another’s corduroy pants. I drank in the silence and peace.

The only other time I’ve been in a large crowd where everyone was collectively mellow, was when I took my daughter to see the Dalai Lama a bunch of years ago when he came to Boston. That time I expected it, but on a stranded rush hour subway train? Not in a million years.

I thought of the Desiderata then, specifically that one line. “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.” We all did it, without realizing. Waited calmly and contentedly for the train to move again, taking in the quiet and the calm, cherishing it, like a hot bath, like that old Calgon commercial.

On one hand, our willingness and determination to strive for peace renewed my sense of humanity. On the other, I worried that perhaps the non-reaction was due to the fact we’ve (as a society) become somewhat numb, too focused on all the business in our heads to even notice that the train had stopped, that there were people around us, that we were in a packed, stopped subway car with no idea how long we’d be there.

Or possibly, we are all so busy, that the extra unexpected ten minutes of non-scheduled time was too precious to curdle with conversation. Ten minutes of utter silence, and calm and peace. When else, really, in our busy lives do we get that?

Appreciate the pauses life gives you, the downtime. Take a lesson from the people on the Green Line and savor the quiet; use it to center yourself. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, or on a train, or in an airport, savor the break from routine.

I’ll close with another great line from the Desiderata. “…in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”

Tracy L. Carbone is a freelance fiction writer from Massachusetts. Her middle grade paranormal, The Man of Mystery Hill is available at Amazon.  Please visit her website for details about her writing life.