In the early 1970s, there was a quirky song — more talking than singing, really -— called “Desiderata,” which, only now have I come to learn, is Latin for “desired things.” It was the title track from a vinyl LP which won the 1972 Grammy for ‘Best Spoken Word Album.”
It was recorded by a fascinating fellow by the name of Les Crane, who is worthy of a story all by himself. Groundbreaking radio & TV host, jet fighter pilot and he even lived out the fantasy of many a 1960’s boy like myself by marrying “Ginger” (Tina Louise) from “Gilligan’s Island.” Yes, Les had more than most.
Anyway, the words to “Desiderata,” which a college professor introduced me to in the late ‘70s, were penned by American writer Max Ehrmann in 1927, but lay in literary obscurity until Crane popularized it with his ethereal voice. An idealistic manifesto for a happy life, one of its more memorable sentiments goes like this:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste…And remember what peace there may be, in silence…”
I suspect that was a lot easier to do in 1927. Sure feels that way, anyway.
Considering the chaotic, confrontational cacophony of the last several months, which shows no sign of relenting, I’ve been lately contemplating the ever more elusive concept of peace and quiet.
Think about how often you’re in a truly quiet place these days. I’m talking quiet enough to hear your own heartbeat…to hear the background noise of your own auditory system. The kind of silence that is, in its way, a bit overwhelming to the denizens of a world now known for noise.
When’s the last time you sat in a truly quiet place, contemplating your own mortality? It can be a daunting, but worthwhile experience. Our very lives are something we all take for granted most of the time. No matter your station in life, your wealth, your power and popularity, all of that will last only so long as that fist-sized miracle of design and durability keeps mystically pumping away inside your chest. Humbling.
Max Ehrmann knew what he was talking about. Silent reflection is a healthy, even vital, human experience. Focusing on our tenuous hold on this temporary earthly life, is, in my estimation, crucial to keeping one’s priorities in order and to best enjoying the gift that is your life. Contemplating the seemingly infinite and impossibly complex balance found within us, and all around us, defies any reasonable explanation, save that of God’s handiwork. Sorry, Bill Nye, but minds far greater than yours have tried to explain all of that away to chance and evolution. I personally can’t muster the ridiculous level of faith required to jump into that implausible primordial soup. Maybe he just needs more silent contemplation in his life. I know I do.
I’m not against all noise, mind you. For example, I was recently privileged to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra perform “An American in Paris.” George Gershwin knew how to make some very good noise.
But, by and large, the day-to-day sea of incessant sound in which we swim is an eroding force, washing away our inner peace in thunderous, unrelenting waves of overstimulation.
One has to be much more intentional about seeking the essential solitude of silence, but I maintain that it’s a goal worthy of pursuit.
So remember: The most important button your TV, your radio, your computer and your phone…will always be the “off” button.
Like the sign says….”Quiet. Please.”