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Saint of the Day: St. Maurice and the Theban Legion
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The Day the Silence Died

Ian 'Harry' Harris

Jim Schroeder - published on 08/02/14

As he grew older, music became his release. He craved rhythm where life seemed to have none. He rarely was without his i-Pod, and the musicians became his guide. Silence scared him, as if something was about to “go down.” So he avoided it, and he and his friends joined the fury he felt about all the ways they had been wronged. During class, his teachers generally turned a blind eye as long as the music remained just discernible to him. His mobility only improved after he got his first i-Phone, and his friends texted and surfed throughout the day to pass the time. Unknowingly, he became part of the trend of minority youth who spend almost thirteen hours a day “linked in” to some form of media or technology, almost four and half hours more than their white counterparts. 

“Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.”
– Thomas Merton

We walked through the valley of the shadow of life.

The previous day had been one of ups and downs—not of a personal nature—but of a mountainous one. After taking off on the trail the prior evening, we had started out early in the morning as the shadows slowly ebbed to the east over the Chisos Mountains on our way to the highest point, Emory Peak. As the night settled in, childish conversations reminiscent of decades past, of wrestling javelinas and taming mountain lions, interspersed with tales of professional pursuits and worldly concerns.  

But this morning, as we slowly made our way into Juniper Valley, the sun was unveiling its rugged masterpiece onto the lowly, vast expanse that lay before us. Prickly pear cactuses and welcoming aloe plants covered the land as our simple minds contemplated the enormous beauty, and desolation, below. As we snaked our way down the mountain, a small tent appeared on the canyon floor where two travelers had hunkered down for the night. We would not see another human being that day.  

It had been almost ten years since my two brothers and I had our last great wilderness adventure. Although we had seen much of the beautiful landscape that this country had to offer, in duo or with other company, our trio had not come together for much time until we found our way into the confines of Big Bend National Park. As the desert sun intensified, and the harsh, unforgiving land showed its true, often brilliant colors, the climbs and the miles became more difficult. Like many of my past adventures, it was during these moments that I sometimes wondered why we had not taken an easier road, one in which the toil and sweat was replaced with comfort and leisure. As the blisters began to form, and the heat of the day colluded with our entomological foes to even make a day-ending siesta a chore, the weakness in me felt tempted by a more forgiving course.

But I knew by now that I had come, and we had come, for a much different purpose. On the surface, it had been one of adventure and one of beauty, and for that it had not disappointed. But in a greater sense, we came for solitude and silence, in ourselves and with each other. We had come in search of the same tranquility that we desired and needed every day—whether in brief moments of interlude or amid the morning rise or the setting sun. We had come to the faraway land of Big Bend to remind ourselves of the joy that this solitude beheld so that when life resumed (as it soon would), we would seek to preserve and nurture it in our everyday lives. It was that same silence of understanding that we would seek between ourselves. For although at times our conversations spoke of trail curiosities, and at times of our personal lives, much of the time our discussions were born out of the quietness of our footsteps on the rocky, parched soil and the birds swooshing by. We had travelled across the country to immerse ourselves in the comfort that came with saying nothing at all.

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