When moved to do so, I wander off the medical commentary pedestal to share thoughts with readers. This is one of those occasions. I had a singular experience last weekend that impacted me.
Most of us can agree that there is a paucity of silence in our world. There is noise and static everywhere filling our time and space with cacophony. Television news shows have become performances where we watch panels of pundits who appear as clucking hens. Try to find a coffee shop that isn’t blaring music. Even sports games on television have every nanosecond filled with barkings from commentators. Can’t we just enjoy the play?
Last Sunday, I went to a Quaker Meeting House for the first time, accompanied by my daughter Ariella, representing our family. There was no speaker, ushers, music or program of events. The room was set up with chairs in each half that faced each other. Folks took their seats and remained quiet. At first, I was disquieted by the quiet, impatient for some action to commence, as I would be at a theater, sports arena or musical performance. Not here. Several minutes passed and not a syllable was uttered. Were we all just wasting our time? On the contrary, I was being offered a rare gift – the opportunity to contemplate in silence.
I enjoy spending time alone, and I am known to duck out to various undisclosed hideaways where I read and write. I have not made silent meditation, however, a part of my life. The Quakers are onto something here. For them, silence is not the absence of activity, but an opportunity for thought and reflection. Silence is the event, the music in between the notes.
We were assembled together to recall the life of a remarkable human being, Betty Lake. Betty had been part of our lives for over 20 years. We took her on as nanny to what became a house of entropy with 2 working parents, 5 children, a dog or two and an occasional boarder. We remained actively connected to her for the rest of her life. She exuded warmth, generosity, good cheer and love with infectious enthusiasm. She created a Sea of Tranquility in our Cauldron of Chaos. She loved us all and we returned that love to her in full measure.
A few years ago, she gifted me a small rocking chair that she had sat in as young girl in Cincinnati. I treasure it. I have moved twice since I received it and still display it where I see it every day.
At the Quaker Meeting, after a silent overture, folks stood and offered reflections when they were moved to do so. By the end, nearly everyone had shared a memory or a vignette about Betty, each contributing a few stitches to the tapestry of her life. When the meeting ended, we all felt good that we had collectively captured her essence and had honored a woman of such great worth. Photos of her were scattered on a table and guests were invited to take one home.
Grab a few minutes of silence today. Turn the volume down and cherish a transient oasis of calmness and peace.
Thanks, Betty, for all you have given us. You gave without ever expecting anything back, a lesson that I try to use to become better than I am.
About the author
Michael Kirsch, M.D. is a full time practicing physician and writer. He regularly writes about the joys and challenges of medical practice including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality at MD Whistleblower.