“A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
It’s a beautiful day at the lake. The walker’s trail is empty of all but a few walkers. There are no reckless skaters or bikes to avoid. The soft, blue-grey sky is half overcast in a beautiful texture of silver and gray ribbons of clouds, the harbingers of the cold front just off our Gulf coast.
It’s warm today, indeed, too warm for December, reflective of the gradually building climate change that has just brought us our warmest summer and fall on record. There are flocks of birds making and then remaking patterns in the sky, periodically diving to the water at break neck speed. Along the shore white cranes stand on one leg appearing to gaze far ahead to the distant horizon.
There is a young woman wearing a bikini in a canoe floating freely in the middle of the lake only yards from the bridge where I stand. Oblivious to the world, she doesn’t see me. But she also doesn’t see the sky or the birds. She lies on her front propped up on her elbows, eyes glued to the tiny screen she holds in her hands, thumbs tapping away.
Near the end of the bridge I pass a couple of fishermen down below along the banks where the bridge pilings begin. I’m guessing they are father and son. The older man flicks his fishing rod toward the lake while the younger sits on a rock, tapping away at his cell phone. He is oblivious to the rod under his own foot bending under the weight of a fish.
On the far side of the lake, I encounter once again the homeless man I see down here peridically, who, like Francis of Assisi, serenades the shore birds accompanying himself on his guitar. But today, there are no songs or melodies. The volume from his cell phone is loud enough I can hear it from the walking trail. His gaze is glued to the tiny screen. He does not see the birds who have expectantly gathered.
What is it about our own company that we find so intolerable? What is it about being alone in silence that becomes so unbearable so quickly? Are we simply well-trained consumers who have come to believe that if we are not “talk(ing) all the time,” as our commercial advertisers have taught us Is normal if not mandatory, that we cannot be happy?
Have we confused being entertained with being alive? Or is there something more, something dreadfully frightening about the dark abyss we know lies within us, that prompts us to rush madly to fill that silent space with noise, trivia, ever more garish images and gossip, anything that allows us to convince ourselves, for even a few moments, that that emptiness inside us does not really exist?
“I know. I was there. I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine.”
― Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)