I drove up this morning to see my spiritual director and to spend a day in silence at the Jesuit retreat center an hour's drive north of here. I try to do this once a month. Usually I come up the night before, have dinner and spend some time meditating. The joy of not having to decide what dinner will be, or cook it, or clean it up, is alone worth the trip, but what I really come for is the silence. There can be 80 people in the house for a retreat, and rarely do you hear a word spoken. After about 18 hours of soaking silence, I'm ready to talk to my director, drive home and face the chaos, knowing that I've replenished the reservoir of stillness in my soul.
Today that silence is elusive. I've been chasing it since midmorning from chapel to garden to cloister, and have finally run it to ground in the far corner of the library at 8 pm. Small chapel: After a heinous drive through the morning traffic (it took me 30 minutes to go less than 2 miles at one point) I thought I'd found the still point, until two women walked in the door, plopped down beside me and began to chat. Four people in the chapel, forty seats and they have to sit next to me? and talk? I had the same sense of indignation that you get when you see someone toss a bag of trash out the car window. Their words were littered across my interior landscape of stillness. Main chapel: someone is practicing the organ, lovely, but not silent! Cloister: phones ringing (!). Gardens: lawnmower. My room: someone holding a cell conversation on the terrace. I have fled to the library. The silence is so thick you can float on it. The only noise is the gentle tapping of the shade on the window and the clicking of the keys on my laptop. I should have checked the card catalog first to find where the silence was filed. I may stay here all night!