I’m always impressed when people younger than I am catch on to a truth that took me many more years to figure out.
My sister-in-law stayed over on Sunday night and I dropped her off at college Monday morning on my way to work. She’s a very talented artist, and a lover of snapchat. Usually when she comes over, we watch a movie and adhere to the dual-screen-phenomenon — because our attention spans are so short now in America that we need to be watching a movie while surfing the web like mindless-vegetables. But this time, something was different.
I noticed my sister-in-law was not buried in her phone, but instead she was actively conversing, paying close attention to us, and helping us while we cooked dinner, carried plates onto the porch. And then something else happened. She started doing dishes.
Traditionally in my house, dishes are my job. My wife handles much of the other cleaning, but she severely hates dishes and bathrooms, so I’m charged with these less-likable tasks in exchange for a cleaner house. When I asked my SIL why she was doing dishes, she simply responded “It’s keeping me distracted.” It wasn’t until after dinner, when she carried things inside that I realized she hadn’t really been on her phone at all tonight.
It struck me as odd. Not because my sister in law is normally unkind (quite the opposite actually) but because I had never known her to pay much attention to her phone usage.
In the morning, I woke up to a clean sink and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to ask, “So what’s with the phone? Did it break or something?”
And she said something truly beautiful, a truth that I didn’t understand at 18, and one that I still struggle with now.
“I just realized I rely on it too much. I’m trying to rely on it less. I get caught up in the noise.”
And she was right. It’s noise. And I don’t mean just audible noise, but visual noise and attention grabbing noise. Now if you frequent this blog, you’ve heard me rant about cell phones before. But what I took away from this was something different.
She summed up what I hadn’t been able to put my finger on before.
It was too noisy.
I was reading a scientific study a few years ago that talked about a guy who recorded silence.
He’d go out to some location, a grassy hill or a forest, and he’d hit record. Then he’d splice together every moment he could capture with an absense of sound. No crickets. No birds. No wind. And he’d splice that all together to record an hour of silence.
The first time he did it was in a major city in the 1970’s. It took him twelve hours to record his one hour of silence.
And then in 2010 he tried it again. It took 386 hours to record 1 hour of silence. That’s 16 days straight. Half a month. To record an hour of silence.
It’s mind-blowing, really. And that’s only the audio noise. We’re not taking into account the rest of the noise, the visual lights and flashing signs and everything else in the whole world reaching for our attention.
American’s don’t know the first thing about peace. We just don’t. We couldn’t identify peace in a lineup. We don’t have his cell phone number. And if he doesn’t have a number, he must not exist right?
When my sister-in-law made an active choice to cut out just a little bit of the noise in her life, she found herself in a position to help people. It was as if she was aware of things she wouldn’t have noticed before, like dishes in the sink. Or how hard my wife was working on dinner. And the funny thing was, when she invited that sliver of peace and quiet into her life, it benefitted mine. Directly.
She gave me the gift of peace.
Now I know a few of you are thinking this is some far out stuff. And I don’t want to mislead you. I’m a deeply religious person, but right now — this is just some straightforward logic.
I don’t mean “she gave me the gift of peace” like some kind of spiritual present, like she had some power to bestow upon me a mantle of enlightenment. I mean quite literally, she gave me an opportunity to sit down and relax.
When we meet people where they are, and we lighten their burdens by ignoring the noise, we’re not just helping them out in a bind. We’re freeing them, in a literal sense, from something that bound them before that moment.
I was free to smoke a cigar on the porch without the weight of the dishes hanging over my head. I was free to catch up on some reading. I was free to sit in silence and think or pray for a while. And then it hit me.
I want to be more like that. I want to be someone who makes the burden lighter for others. I want to be the kind of guy who does someone elses dishes — who drives out of the way to help someone — who changes his schedule and complicates his life to do something good for someone else.
I want to give people peace. Not in some metaphysical or supernatural way. I want to literally do nice things for people so that other people can take a breath. So that they can sit down and sigh. So that they can catch a moment of silence.
That’s who I want to be.