The deepest, stillest night sky that I have ever experience happened in 2001 on the side of the highway in Argentina that connects the colonial era city of Salta to Buenos Aires. At some point on our drive, my friend Daryl, one half of the couple that I was traveling with, pulled our rental car to the side of the road.
We turned off the engine.
Away from any man made lights,
We looked up
Into layer upon layer of stars
In a sky of black and midnight blue.
Copyrighted Artwork: Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
In the stillness.
I come to look. I come to wonder.
Sometimes the quiet is so deafening that we fill our lives with noise.
You can find quiet
In San Francisco,
Listening late at night,
To the second hand of your kitchen wall clock,
As cars glide across wet city streets
After it has rained.
There is of course a movie coming out today that has the same name as my blog about quiet spaces and ways of being…
It’s a horror film.
It is about a post-apocalyptic world in which there is total silence. If you make a noise, monsters hunt you down and eat you.
For the record, my partner Tom would not last long in this world.
He will tell you that sometimes I act like those monsters.
When I was four years old I left my life in suburban NJ and went to live with my maternal grandparents for a year and half in the village in India where my mother grew up.
Three hundred people lived in Aneemudugu. There were no street signs or house numbers. News from my parents came in aerograms with only my grandparents’ name, the name of the village, the state they lived in and “India” written at the bottom.
We, like most of our neighbors, did not have electricity. Our modest house was lit by kerosene lamps. All our water was drawn from a well and transported to our house by paid laborers. I took my baths in a big metal bucket of water heated by a coal fire. We slept on jute cots out in the open until monsoon showers sent us indoors. Buffaloes stood guard in the front yard tethered to stakes.
There were no stores in Aneemudugu, only a few stands where you could buy odds and ends. Traveling sellers would come through on foot with pots, pans, buckets, other housewares wrapped in a massive bundle they carried atop their heads. The traveling barber and the vegetable seller might follow.
The daily bus that went to the nearest town 3Kms away began its journey by a row of thatched roof coffee stands alongside Aneemudugu’s watering hole for livestock.
It is hard to remember exactly how I passed the days. But I have memories of attending school in a one room school house. Of my grandfather walking across the street every morning to break off a twig from a tree and using it with Colgate Tooth Powder to brush his teeth. Of visiting people’s houses and being given guavas. Of using smashed cooked rice to stick together paper kites. Of watching a soon-to-be uncle arriving on a motorcycle to see his first glimpse of his future wife, my mother’s cousin.
It is easy to romanticize a place.
But how do you not mythologize a small village in the middle of nowhere, where you first remember experiencing quiet?