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Silent Night

by Karen Martin

December 4,2005

During the holidays, I hold out hope for peace--and especially for quiet.

Perhaps it’s because I was raised in a home where loud-talking was a competitive sport, or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and crankier, but I cherish the quiet. I don’t necessarily need silence--I am energized by the low-level murmur of a crowd of happy restaurant patrons, or the buzz of Uptown streets on a Friday night--but I definitely seek quiet. Given the choice between a wild night at a party or a warm day by the ocean, my beach chair wins every time.

This is why the increasing level of noise in Charlotte is getting under my skin.

I refer not to the trash-talking surrounding our school system management, or cheerleader bar-brawls, or pro-wrestler road rage, but instead to the distractions that we as a community are allowing, perhaps without even knowing it, to sidetrack us from constructive discourse and healthy lives.

I’m amazed, for instance, at the “young movers-and-shakers” profiles I’ve read in Charlotte publications, in which the subjects are asked to name the item they can’t live without. More often than not, they respond with “my cell phone” or “my PDA.”

“Really,” I think. “More than your wedding ring? Your spacious front porch? Your loyal old pets?”

In last month’s issue of Charlotte Viewpoint, columnist Angela Lindsay appropriately warned that we need to mind our manners when it comes to cell phone usage, so I won’t belabor the point here, especially as there are seemingly endless opportunities for us to step back and reflect on the beauty of stillness.

How many times, for instance, have you met a colleague for lunch or drinks after work, only to find yourself shouting over the so-called “background music”?

When is the last time you picked up your favorite magazine without thumbing through dozens of advertisements insisting that you could look better with different face cream, or that your house would be more fabulous with different appliances?

How often have you been in the middle of writing an important report, only to be distracted when Microsoft Outlook flashes a worthless e-mail across your screen?

Interestingly, as our world has become filled with more and more noise, yoga and meditation have surged in popularity; it seems many people are looking for ways to bring quiet and stillness into their lives, but must make an appointment to do so.

In his song “Learn to be Still,” written just before the advent of widespread Internet usage, but well after the explosion of cable television programming, Don Henley presciently mourned, “There are so many contradictions in all these messages we send.”

As a new mother, I now find myself concerned about the messages by which my children will be bombarded in the years to come. Before they even get to grade school they’ll be enveloped not only by background music and magazine advertising and e-mail, but also by Instant Messaging and text-message banter that interrupts--and perhaps threatens--real-life conversations.

I worry that not only their peers but also their workplaces will make them feel as if they must stay “connected” at all times, multi-tasking at every opportunity in order to be more productive. I can’t help believing that this will cause them to lose sight of the beauty and perspective on each moment at hand.

How can I show them that there’s terrific freedom in forming your thoughts on your own schedule? That we all have obligations to respond to our loved ones, to our employers and to our community, but that we also have the ability to prioritize?

This holiday season, I hope to lead by example, reclaiming some time and space for myself. I’m putting away the magazines and turning down the radio. I’m forgetting about the school bond referendum for just a few days. I’ll let my voice-mail answer the phone so I can continue my conversation with the interesting person in front of me.

Don’t be surprised if you find me celebrating--in a quiet way--on my spacious front porch with the wonderful man I married and our loyal old cats. Have a silent night, everyone!

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