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Silence and Noise — A Reflection

April 16, 2020
Snow on our back deck

Silence and noise… as we enter week five of our Shelter in Place here in the Rockies there has been a stark contrast between what had been and what is the new reality. Silence and noise… heaven and hell… different feelings expressed by so many people. In his book No Man is an Island Thomas Merton said the following about silence. The rain ceases, and a bird’s clear song suddenly announces the difference between Heaven and hell. (p. 254) This is indeed an interesting concept to explore as we navigate the new reality created by the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus pandemic.

Typically when we would go out on our deck there would be lots of traffic noise with cars, trucks, and motorcycles heading into the National Park. Today (well not today since the deck is covered with 14+ inches of snow) when we step out onto the deck there are tremendous moments of silence. Without the road noise, we hear the wind blowing through the trees and the birds singing. Our shyer wild neighbors are coming out and exploring the town since the streets and parks aren’t crowded. It is indeed beautiful and you could also say it is heavenly.

However, for some the experience could be described as hell. I think about our small businesses who are struggling to stay afloat without the tourists in town. I think of musicians who are watching live gigs dry up and worrying about how to make a living. I consider those who live alone and are cut off from their friends only to find themselves in spiritual darkness. Those who suffer from Depression especially feel the darkness close in on them as the isolation continues.

In other parts of the nation I watch people who are in the hospital dying alone because their family and spiritual leaders aren’t allowed to be with them at the end. I have read about hospital folks who watch the constant parade of people coming into the hospital only to leave in body bags. They are indeed living in a hellish reality.

So how do we navigate this difficult time? It’s not easy and there aren’t quick answers. However there are examples of communities becoming creative in being a caring community in these times. A non-profit collaborates with the town and other non-profits to provide meals for the weekend free of charge. Neighbors are shopping for their at-risk neighbors to ensure that they aren’t running out of essentials. Groups are sewing masks for health care workers and first responders. Strangers are supporting strangers bringing light into the darkness. These random acts of kindness are transforming hell into a community of light. In these moments, as Merton suggests, the difference between heaven and hell.

This pandemic isn’t going to end quickly. As a nation and world we are running a marathon who’s end is nowhere in sight. This isn’t a sprint or an easy race. It is a marathon. Just as there are stations along the marathon course where runners can get water and first aid care, there are stations where we can receive sustenance and care.

That sustenance and care come from a variety of sources. Many musicians are offering virtual gigs for people (and their audience generously tips them using apps). Local restaurants, breweries, and our winery offer takeout and delivery options for people at a good price. Restaurants are preparing and distributing meals to those in need. A local grocery store is offering credit to the National Park employees who are out of work. There are so many examples of care, compassion, and community being offered in new ways.

My prayer is that we will continue to show the difference between heaven and hell by our actions, our words, and our attitude. Then we will hear the bird’s clear song as we walk this journey together.

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