“What do I have to do to get some peace and quiet around here?” my mother would often ask when I was growing up. There were four children in my family; I was the oldest. From top to bottom, we were seven years apart, and I really don’t recall a time when there was ever both peace and quiet. I could be wrong. There may have been, and I just don’t remember it.
Instead, I remember my youngest siblings, a sister and brother, running through the house when they were still quite young. They loved to run through “naked as jay birds” after they had their evening bath. I remember the four of us having other kids in the neighborhood over to our large front yard and playing softball for hours. When we got thirsty, we really did drink water from the garden hose, and none of us died from lead poisoning. I remember Christmas mornings running through the house, waking one another, and screaming of Santa Claus and exciting gifts. I don’t know that there was ever peace and quiet.
When my own sons were young, at a time of which I have better recollection than my own childhood, there were many peaceful times that were quiet. But perhaps, there were just as many that were quiet, but not peaceful. Every mother knows that when the children are “too quiet,” there is not peace. They are up to something. The “something” was not always bad, and it was often funny, at least in retrospect.
My sons are grown now. This weekend the elder is at drill with his unit in the Army National Guard. The younger is serving in a desert far away as a young Marine. My house is completely quiet, except for the television and the occasional movement from the dogs. It’s not very peaceful though.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that real peace is much more than just “a state of tranquility or quiet.”1 No, there is a second definition. Peace also means “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.”2 When you have a loved one serving in a war zone, as is the Middle East, it’s really difficult to maintain a “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.” Instead, emotions come in like a flood.
Quiet is not all it’s cracked up to be. My house is located off the beaten path, and I don’t hear people in my own driveway most times. What I hear are noises that are insignificant – the cat scratching the back door, or the screen door shifting in the wind. I hear the tree limbs on the siding when the wind picks up strength. I hear mama cows bellowing when we are weaning their calves. Then, I also hear a million sounds that are equally insignificant, but surely seem very important. I hear a group of home invaders in the basement some nights. I hear them knocking things over and moving stuff around. I hear banging noises that sound like the house is caving in on itself, even though it’s really the water pressure tank. With all the noises, or lack thereof, it’s not really peaceful here, even though it is quiet.
I need peace far more than I need quiet. There was another missile strike in the Middle East this week. You probably didn’t hear anything about it unless you were looking at every news article. This one was directed at dissidents aligned with Bashar Assad. Because I homeschooled my sons, I have maps all over my house. I’m very familiar with the national borders in the Middle East, but I don’t know exactly which borders surround my Marine. And even though I know that the area he is probably in is as big as the Louisiana Purchase, when you look at it on a map, it all seems so close together, as if a missile in one place could affect the entire geographic area. No amount of quiet in my house can give me peace about that.
For the last two months of his deployment, I’ve tried to stay remarkably active. I’ve walked 3 miles a day 3-4 times a week. I’ve spent 12-14 hours every week at a dance studio. I’ve been to more political meetings than I cared to attend. And I had classes to prepare to teach every week. But summer is here, and school is out. An injury is preventing me from all active walking and 95% of dancing. And the state legislature has recessed. In other words, you’re getting to read this because I have nothing to do tonight and decided to write. Misery loves company, huh?
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.” 3 Tonight, this MoM is just not buying it.
- From the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/poetry/max-ehrmann.html