We sat on Sunset Beach last week gasping and cheering with crowds watching the HIC Pro Surfing Championship. After a particularly large wipe out session, one of the competitors was on the beach recovering. As people approached him, he pointed to his ears explaining they were blocked and all he could hear was the surf pounding in his head. Eventually, people stopped approaching and he sat completely relaxed, focused on the horizon.
As I watched him, I thought of how I felt during the two years we spent traveling in Europe. Although my ears were not physically blocked, I took in sounds for their rhythm and melody, not for their content. As we moved throughout the continent, I relied on sight, touch, and smell more than words. Once I accepted that I could not understand words at a complex level in 24 plus languages, I surrendered to the quiet and it was transformational. The quiet was not only acceptable by the time we left Europe this past Spring, but I also looked forward to it and even depended on it at times.
When we landed in New York City, I was in shock. There was sudden ease with the day-to-day. I could walk in grocery and read labels. I could order easily in a restaurant. I could dial the phone and communicate with the person that answered. There was also a huge amount of noise. I could hear other people’s cell phone conversations. I could understand everyone and everything they were saying. Music became content again, and there were hundreds of television channels in English. Cell phones worked again, Wifi was on every corner. Tablets were on the table at a restaurant we entered so orders could be placed digitally and customers could game while waiting. Price checks with QR codes were somehow impossible to marry with Luigi who delivered our fresh bread on his Vespa every morning. I was drowning in the noise and at the same time relishing in the ease of understanding.
It became clear that much of the time I gained in Europe, that vaporized the moment we landed on U.S. soil, was about my ability to block out the unwanted noise. I was overwhelmed and not able to enjoy the ease of understanding. I realize now, after traveling through the USA for almost 6 months, that finding quiet is up to me. The noise never made me forget what was important, but I would often forgo precious moments because I allowed myself to be distracted by unwanted noise. I would end up feeling resentful and upset that time slipped away, and I know now that I gave it away.
I learned during this visit to the USA that face to face time with family was something I was not willing to give up to unwanted noise. Because our time was limited, I recognized its value in new and powerful ways. I am grateful that I now know that unwanted noise can make it feel like time is slipping away, when in fact those moments are mine to preserve.
Initially, what I learned in Europe was how to be alone and be quiet. Eventually, I learned to enjoy the space and authentic connection of those that came into the quiet. Lately, I have come to respect and protect the quiet because I know that it is not something that can be taken for granted.
I will forever hold the image of that surfer listening to the waves from the inside out as a reminder that peace comes from within …