Silence. Quiet. Shhhh!

The Zen master of  the library –  recognize her?

 I am not by nature a quiet person.

Third child in a household of six, I had to speak up loud and clear to be heard. An extrovert par excellence, I am compelled to fill awkward silences in awkward conversations. A social butterfly — who works in a library – I am often shushed by the Head Librarian. In fact, last year at my stellar annual review discussing “room for improvement” my boss told me:

“Joani, you need to remember to use your library voice.”

Yes, my library voice.

As the noisiest person on staff  I am positioned in the perfect place – at the circulation desk. I love getting to know whoever comes through those front doors — studious students, various visitors, crazy clergy, fastidious faculty, steadfast staff.

Checking books out — I deal in public relations. Checking books in — I do a fair amount of pastoral care. We talk church politics. We talk reading assignments. We talk family. We talk churchmanship. We talk theology. We talk mental health. We talk small talk. We even talk a little bit of trash. (Shhh!)

I am a noisy and priestly librarian want-to-be. An Anglican who LOVES the OUT LOUD prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, I would make a very lousy Quaker.

A very lousy Quaker indeed.

Yet even in this loud mouth beats a somewhat contemplative heart.

I am no stranger to quiet. In fact, I love quiet. I live on my own and all alone and very rarely am I lonely.

I live in a third floor walkup. Two bedrooms and two baths — it is my sacred and solitary space. Alone in my cell, I am free to walk around in my skivvies and turn up the volume on my Spotify. I love to light my gaslight fire and curl up on my couch with a good book and a bowl of cereal.

It is my sanctuary.

I walk alone. An Olympic walker, I constantly check the stats on my Fitbit. I have taken 6,011, 861 steps  — alone. I have walked 2546 miles — alone. I have burned 1, 387, 139 calories — alone. Well mostly alone.

Walking  — my head is freed up to think about everything or nothing at all. Silently walking the streets of Capitol Hill, the Old Town waterfront, the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park, St. Theo’s Holy Island –I think, I write,  I fantasize and pray.  While walking, I meditate, negotiate, and investigate.  I regulate, navigate, and instigate —

silently walking alone.

Stopping along the way  — I go coffee shop  hopping — alone. Silently sitting, nursing my latte, watching people come and go, I catch snatches of conversations – little bits of meaning – in all kinds of languages – haikus of wisdom. I pull out my notebook and write and write and write.

In high school,  I’d   go —  alone — to THE LIBRARY – the Library of Congress reading room. A hushed sanctuary, it smelled of wood polish and old books. I’d do my homework and write my essays on those lovely wooden desks lit by green shaded lamps. Here in this holy of holies, I first read Thomas Merton’s “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.”

 Journal-like it is not a journal. Theological, it is not the least bit systematic. Seemingly random, it is deeply reasoned. Mystical, it’s down to earth meaningful.  A monk in a Trappist monastery, Merton writes as a man of the world.

A man alone — a man who practices sacred silence — he has much to say. And what he says — he says in a few paragraphs, with a few sentences, and with a few well chosen words. (All the better for that long ago high schooler to understand.)

“Above all, these are the day-to-day impressions, the simple conjectures of a man in his own world with its own challenges. It is a monastic world, and doubtless strange to those who have no experiences of such a thing. Yet it is, I think, open to the life of experience of the greater, more troubled, and more vocal world beyond the cloister. Though I often differ strongly from the ‘world’, I think I can be said to respond to it. I do not delude myself that I am still not part of it.”

I am in no danger of entering a monastery anytime soon. But Merton does teach me that I really do have monastic moments. These monastic spaces help contain this  manic brain. These mindful and meditative places help expand this melancholy soul.

“One has to be alone, under the sky before everything falls into place and one finds one’s own place in the midst of it all…a spring morning alone in the woods…the ceremonies of the birds feeding in the wet grass.”

 Silence, quiet, shhhhh!




  1. The evolving human calendar:

    20,000 – 35,000 years ago 28-29 day moon cycles carved on bones and antlers.

    18,000 years ago 28-29 day moon cycles depicted in animal art in caves of France.

    10,000 – 15,000 years ago native Americans led by moon and natural food cycles

    9,000 – 11,000 years ago early agriculture led by Yangtze/Yellow River flood cycles and the moon
    I don’t know how else to reach you. This is a beautiful writing about time and space. Barbara Cotter

    6,760 years ago Assyrian lunar calendar begins; new years begin with spring

    6,250 years ago more complex Egyptian 365-day solar calendar: new year begin with the annual Nile flood

    5,025 – 3,370 years ago Olmec/Mayan calendar begins: the oldest had a complexly determined 260-day year.

    2,056 years ago Julius Caesar’s visit to Egypt results in 365-day Julian solar calendar: new year begins January 1.

    429 years ago, Pope Gregory XIII commissions the mathematically complex Gregorian calendar of 365.2425 days with a 366-day leap year every four years.
    – from May the Rivers Never Sleep by Bill and John McMillan

    . . . . . . .

    The evolution of human culture and technology can be seen as a multi-thousand year effort to insulate ourselves from nature, from the discomfort and periodic episodes of starvation that hunter/gather life in nature entails.

    As we adopted an agriculturally-based culture, our concept of time changed, as did the rhythms of our lives.

    . . . . . . .

    “The people I have known on the water – the old timers I knew – eased with the winds. Do you think they live high stress? No. They lived simple. Their bodies even moved with it. They knew a rhythm and a tempo – different from this hard driving tempo we are into on the beltways. Wheels going to work. Drivin’.
    “I once watched an old guy adze out a helm. Adze it out. I watched his rhythm. I was blown away watching him. He worked that adze down that whole keel. Whack. Whack. All day long. When you talk to someone like that, or hang out with them, their whole rhythm of stories, of song, their segue from song to story, is all in that beautiful simple balance. So I try to get hold of that in my songs, and in the way I live. It is so important.”
    – from my interview of folksinger and Chesapeake River advocate Tom Wisner

    . . . . . . .

    A balanced life is based on its own rhythm. If you don’t set your own rhythm, and have the discipline to follow it, your life will move at the speed of the culture around us, which moves too fast.

    The space we make for quiet time affects our thought patterns and, in turn, the quality of our lives. If you don’t own your own time, your own life, you don’t own much.

    In my journal, I sometimes explore the question,

    “To what extent is the rhythm of your life a result of careful thought as opposed to adapting, without thought, to the flow that surrounds?


  2. I totally get where you’re coming from. When I was 33, unable for years to convince various other single friends to take a West Coast trip with me, this extrovert traveled for a week on her own, hiking through a number of national parks and enjoying other adventures. Years later, looking back, I realized that probably wasn’t the smartest thing for a young woman to do alone. But I wouldn’t trade those peaceful walks through the woods without seeing another living soul, solitary picnics by dramatic waterfalls deep into a mountain forest, a solo night swim under a full moon (also not smart, and I was a lifeguard–never swim alone!!), meeting and chatting up a variety of other travelers as I dined alone, being contemplative instead of vocally ooing and ahhing with a companion as I gazed at beautiful scenery. Given the choice, I’ll always travel with someone compatible, but, as I say, I cherish the experiences on that trip.


    1. Yes, Beth, you understand the blessings that can come in a solitary life. I too am planning a little beach retreat in September at Rehoboth – unable to find a traveling companion — I am going on my own. And deliciously looking forward to it! But you are welcome to come along – if you’re available! I also love company!!


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