The Luxury of Silence: Lessons Learned from Lunch Duty (and Wendell Berry)

How To Be A Poet

by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

i

Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon

affection, reading, knowledge,

skill – more of each

than you have – inspiration,

work, growing older, patience,

for patience joins time

to eternity. Any readers

who like your poems,

doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.

Make the best you can of it.

Of the little words that come

out of the silence, like prayers

prayed back to the one who prays,

make a poem that does not disturb

the silence from which it came.

The Luxury of Silence:

Lessons Learned from Lunch Duty (and Wendell Berry)

by Dr. Crystal Hurd

 

I am a public school teacher.  And I absolutely love my job. In addition to teaching classes, teachers are assigned specific duties throughout the day.  These duties range from hall duty, answering phones while receptionists are at lunch, or parking lot duties. Lucky me, I’ve had lunch duty the last five years.

What is lunch duty like?  Just imagine about 300 hungry, over-tested, communication-deprived adolescents who have roughly 25 minutes to eat. Some students pack their meals and head immediately to the table to munch on turkey sandwiches and chips, while others stand in line for salads or barbeque or pizza and those little styrofoam cups with fruit. Most would think this is a rather benign duty, but such assemblies can often breed problems.  This includes fights, bullying, overly-affectionate couples, and the occasional food fight (last week it was grapes). And the noise. Competing voices crescendo as students finish their meals (you would think chewing would sufficiently occupy a mouth, but teenagers have mastered the “chew and chat” without the “spray” – not a skill measured on standardized tests, but slightly impressive nonetheless!). By the time the bell rings and kids evacuate, there is a looming silence that contradicts the former chaos. In the matter of 60 seconds, the bees-hive is empty. Peace prevails.

So many days my mind feels like this.  I sit down to write and up crops all of the things I need to do. Did I email that parent back?  Did I fold the towels yet?  When was the deadline on that Call For Papers?  Even when I am afforded silence, my frame of mind returns to that spacious, yet deafening cafeteria.  The mental cogs turn and whirl, but often not in a creative fashion. I rebuke myself: why can’t you just be quiet? I have work to do. When I finally arrive at stillness, the distraction still lingers like a shadow and I end up disappointed with the product.  Berry reassures us, “Accept what comes from silence./Make the best you can of it./Of the little words that come/out of the silence, like prayers/prayed back to the one who prays…” Silence is golden, but perhaps this is because silence is often a luxury, as quiet time is nibbled away by personal and professional duties.

I love what Berry writes here: sequester yourself, find the sacred silence, write, repeat often. I am beginning to relish these moments of silence. For so many, our time is spent taming the commotion around us. Quiet time is, essentially, a reward. So I read the poem again:

Image by Tory Byrne via stock.xchng
Image by Tory Byrne via stock.xchng

“Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet…Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.”

There are moments when we cannot spare a few moments of silence (although we desperately require it). But I am slowly learning that those times of utter chaos give me invaluable perspective. It allows me to appreciate the times of stillness and lends me the opportunity to think. Some of my best ideas visit me when I’m busy with other tasks. In fact, I find myself observing student behaviors and occasionally eavesdropping on conversations while on lunch duty to get ideas for characters or topics for blogs and poems. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places”. Places where we find the essence of humanity hidden among our daily rituals. Sometimes, the location of such sanctuaries may surprise you…and offer you a rectangular piece of pizza while you’re at it.

*****

Dr. Crystal Hurd is a writer, reader, public school educator, and adjunct professor.  She is happily married with three beautiful Terriers (adopted from local shelters).  She is a certified book nerd who loves to read and research works involving faith, literature, art, and leadership.  You can visit her webpage  www.crystalhurd.com , friend her on Facebook, (Crystal Sullivan Hurd) and follow her on Twitter:  @DoctorHurd and @hurdofficial.

 

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