Armchair Peregrinations

November 21, 1998

Over all the hilltops
Among the treetops
You feel hardly
A breath moving.
The birds fall silent in the woods.
Simply wait! Soon
You too will be silent.


Abba Nilus said, The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Title of a book that has always intrigued me.

I like staying up late at night because it is so quiet and still. I know that by 6:30 in the morning I'll notice the drone of traffic from Folly Road, even though it's a number of blocks away from my apartment. Right now I hear a fire truck siren in the distance. A terrible city sound that is inescapable until it disappears. It's getting cooler outside, and the wind is brisk. Soon I will be heading to the beach for a late autumn walk beside the ocean. At least that's my plan. I'll have to endure the traffic to get there, but it will be worth it.

Yesterday at the end of a long day at work, I found myself chattering to my co-workers as I often do, and I thought to myself later at home, "You know, I talk too much." I seem to be the one who initiates a lot of this idle chit chat. Am I just lonely? Do I need to hear another voice, or perhaps just my own voice? I haven't said a word to anyone since last night. I have been reading and now I'm composing my journal entry for today, trying to gather together some thoughts on this subject of silence. The Fathers of the early church sought out the emptiness of the desert for self-mortification, needing silence for the hard work of confronting themselves and attempting to find God. One needs to get away from noisy distractions, the temptations and the activities of daily life. It is a spiritual necessity for me. When I go to the beach, I hear the ocean and feel the wind. Nothing much else.

Better yet would be to go to a place miles from Charleston in the ACE Basin. It is my refuge: quiet woods, marshes, open water, maritime forest, trails beside and around long-abandoned rice fields. Away from crowds. Away from cities.

There are few things in life as unsettling to me as being in large crowds. There is a certain "madness" about crowds of people. I feel real loneliness in crowds, not the healthy "aloneness" of being by myself and trying to immerse myself in positive thought processes. When I get caught in a crowd, I race to get away, weaving in and out, walking faster and faster until I'm once again in the clear.

I have to confess, though, there is one crowd situation I do like and that is a parade. I will try to explain why, although it seems contradictory to the thrust of my thoughts so far. I went to the Christmas parade last year on King Street and really enjoyed it. I felt emotional at times and happy. I laughed at little harmless absurdities. People want to be seen at parades. They like to be part of an audience. They feel part of the human race, or as Balzac would say, "La comedie humaine," the human comedy. It's only once a year, and I can truly be an observer.

The noise, the drums and bands, the music from blaring sound systems on trucks, the costumes, dogs, horses, antique cars, marching units, and beauty queens and little misses fade in the distance as I leave the crowds and make my way down side streets. Soon, I can't hear anything more from the parade. It's quiet again. I hear a mockingbird singing a beautiful melody from it's perch in a tree.

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