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You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Last Friday was a busy day – I had lots of errands to run, then I was meeting my new boyfriend, Joseph, at a local bar and grill for a quick dinner, and from there we were going to the opening of a friend’s art exhibition. 

By the time I got to the bar and grill, I was frazzled. I was there early, though, and was looking forward to forty-five minutes of quiet solitude before he arrived. I sat out on the patio, which was nearly empty, and just let my mind and body rest, listening to the music and thinking nothing. It felt great.

Before I could really settle down, though, I needed to go to the toilet. And as I went inside the restaurant and crossed through the tables toward the ladies’ room, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and saw three of my friends sitting together in a corner.

They beckoned me over, and we chatted for a few minutes – they were going to the art exhibition, too. Then one of them said, “Why don’t you sit with us until Joseph comes?”

I enjoy these friends and under other circumstances would have been delighted to sit with them. But at that moment, my heart sank. All I wanted was a little time to myself, some peace and quiet. I needed it.

I stood there for a second or two pondering how to reply. Then suddenly, to my horror, I heard myself say, “No.” 

Just “No.” Emphatically. With a tone of voice as if spending time with them would be a torture of a kind prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

It felt like I’d totally lost control of my inner filter – it broke down for a moment and “No” popped out, like a verbal fart.

There was silence for what felt like a thousand years, as I tried to gather my thoughts and come up with something to say to explain myself. My friends seemed to be just as horrified as I was. I don’t know what they were thinking. 

Time was moving very slowly, like in a train wreck or a car accident.

I remember blabbering something like, “I’ve had a really busy day and need some down time before the thing tonight” – which was actually the truth.

Then I scurried away and started to think about where I could move to where nobody knows me.

Eventually Joseph arrived and I told him what had happened, and he helped me laugh about it. He thought it was hilarious. I did not.

But to be honest, as mortifying as that moment had been, it had also felt great – to be completely honest and unvarnished. 

It probably isn’t necessary to be so blunt, but everyone needs a little peace and quiet at times, and it shouldn’t be offensive to say so. In this age of constant overstimulation, and especially around the holidays, when the constant activity ramps up, a few moments of calm can be golden. Surely we can all agree on that.

Of course, solitude and peace can be hard to come by, and people go to great lengths to get it sometimes. When I was little, I took refuge in my bedroom closet to escape my brothers. Later I went for long bicycle rides. As an adult, I go for walks, read a book (or pretend to read a book), or go sit in a cafe by myself. 

I suspect many people attend church less for the spiritual experience than to sit in a calm, quiet place for an hour. 

Which, come to think of it, can be a spiritual experience in itself. 

Even in the midst of pandemonium, there are almost always ways to escape, if only for a moment. It’s more a matter of giving yourself permission. As partners, parents, family members, and employees, it can be easy to feel we’ve given up the right to seek serenity. But everyone needs down time – even God rested on the seventh day.

Julia Cameron, an author who writes about nurturing ourselves and our creativity, says everyone has the right to “tranquility, respect, and good humor” – and to the time involved in meeting those needs.

Everyone needs time to do nothing, time just to be and to remember who you are, apart from the demands, distractions, and diminishments of daily life. 

“Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resilience,” Cameron says. “Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is.”

Withdrawing your presence – briefly and at appropriate times – is okay and necessary. It’s how you remember you have an independent existence, and that there’s more to you than being a husband or wife, mother or father, daughter or son, or friend. We are all those things, but also much more. 

Christmastime is all about taking time in silence – to contemplate existence apart from the hubbub, distractions, and demands of normal life. The family, school, and social events sometimes seem to be the heart of the Christmas season, but the soul of the holidays is in the words and mood of “Silent Night”: the quiet moments when you stop to absorb the spirit of the season, to let its wonder and serenity enter you. 

More than anything, the holidays celebrate peace, calm, and the tranquil security of faith in love. That kind of celebration comes in the quiet spaces in between the parties and events.

Surely we each are allowed to take moments like this, at Christmastime and throughout the year.

My holiday wish for you, and for the new year, is peaceful, calm withdrawal when you need it – and friends and family who will warmly welcome you back when you’re rested and ready.

About Patricia Sanders

Patricia Sanders lived in Globe from 2004 to 2008 and at Reevis Mountain School, in the Tonto National Forest, from 2008 to 2014. She has been a writer and editor for GMT since 2015. She currently lives on Santa Maria island in the Azores.

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