If you’re going to stay home sick, as I learned the hard way, it’s best not to do it on the day before an election.
Tucked under the covers on the Friday before the Dec. 10 runoff, I tried to sleep off what ailed me, but it was no use. The phone rang a dozen times as candidates launched robocalls to drum up votes, which made me dream of a health care reform proposal both Republicans and Democrats might agree upon. Why not leave sick people alone so they can recover? If your stomach is not quite right, there are few things more potent than a political call to sharpen the queasiness.
Quiet is what I want most of all as the campaign season ends, and there are hints of it in the turning of the seasons. The patio beyond my bedroom, loud with frogs and cicadas just weeks ago, is almost as silent as the surface of the moon most nights now, with just the occasional scuttle of leaves as wind works its brushstrokes across the yard. No lawn mowers groan on weekend afternoons, and the air conditioners that hum through spring and summer are, for the most part, mute. Instead, I sometimes hear an owl hooting — his call muffled a bit, as if he’s a little sorry to stir the stillness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about quiet because my friend Willard Spiegelman touches on it in his new book, “Senior Moments,” in which he reflects on some of the important things he’s learned after living to retirement age. He devotes a chapter to quiet, something that’s grown rarer since he was a young man.
I met Willard a few years ago when he visited Louisiana to write a Wall Street Journal piece about the stellar Audubon art at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library. Willard was funny, chatty and charming during the dinner we shared, but over at Hill, he was reticent and focused as he studied treasures like Audubon’s white ibis and ivory-billed woodpecker. The perceptive story he wrote showed how a little quiet can be put to good use. Quiet seems to be the soil where all true insight grows.
“Silence, like the star-studded nighttime sky formerly available to all but now invisible to virtually everyone, has become a lost commodity,” Willard tells readers in his new book. “Some of us make efforts to retrieve it. Privacy and slowness, equally in short supply, are its cousins, requiring cultivation. Noise, like public life and communal activity, dissipates, as well as stimulates, energy. Thoreau had it right: ‘Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts.’”
Willard chronicles his search for quiet in restaurants, libraries and museums, all pretty much to no avail.
“Quiet is a diminishing resource, like water, clean air and petroleum,” he writes. “Unlike oil, however, there’s no reason we cannot regain more of it.”
I hope so. My convalescence reminded me that the best Christmas gift of all might be a silent night.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.