A couple years ago I had to go into work earlier than normal. While sitting in my car at a stoplight, I glanced over at the car next to me. Inside was a young girl animatedly chatting away on her phone. I glanced down at the clock on my dashboard. It was 7:00am.
What could possibly be so important at this hour, I thought. Perhaps I’m turning into a grumpy, old man, but when did we become incapable of simply enjoying silence? Have we lost the desire for private contemplation? Why do so many people — and in particular the younger generations — feel the constant need to fill the empty spaces of their lives with noise and activity and endless clicks? I have two theories.
But first, let me say I have no ill-will whatsoever towards this girl. She is perfectly free to live her life as she sees fit. In the grand scheme of things, a simple phone call is no big deal. And who knows, maybe she has a best friend who lives on the other side of the world and mornings are the only time they can connect. Or maybe she learned her mother was being released from the hospital that morning and she was just getting the good news. Maybe.
But my suspicion is of a much sadder, more prevalent truth: she can’t be alone.
And I have two possible theories as to why this is.
First, she’s never learned how. Her generation was raised by over-protective, helicopter parents who pacified them with tablets, mini-van DVD players, and 500 television channels with the ability to skip commercials. Later on, smart phones and social media added a non-stop drip line of stimulation. Drip, drip, drip. The opiate of the masses. I myself have fallen victim to its wiles on many an occasion. It’s a seductive trap if we’re not vigilant.
Second, she’s scared. Scared to be alone. Scared to be by herself with nothing but her thoughts. Scared that she won’t like what she hears inside. Or worse, scared that if she goes looking, there won’t be anything there to find. Just emptiness, hollowness. An uncomfortable void she feels compelled to fill. I apologize for sounding harsh, but it seems to be a trend that is worsening.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from author Franz Kafka:
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
The irony is that only in the silence do we find what it is we’re so desperately seeking. Real, lasting peace and surety. Because it is only in the silence that our still, inner voice can speak to us. And it requires regular practice to learn what to listen for. Only when we intentionally turn down the volume of daily life and seek quiet time to ponder and meditate — if only for a few minutes — can the universe distill its deeper wisdom, the kind of wisdom that can truly transform us.
Remember, even Superman needed his Fortress of Solitude.