Savoring the Silence

                        Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/24/22

                                                by Neal Lemery

            I’ve arrived in the holidays.  Normal obligations have either been taken care of, or completed, or postponed until “later”, which means whenever we feel like getting back to the daily routine.  This week’s ice storm has added new reasons to stay at home and enjoy some peace and quiet. 

            Schools are closed, people have left their jobs for a while, and are instead moving into the “holiday spirit”, which is deliciously undefined and without boundaries. Outside, the weather is described by the song lyrics of “frightful”.  The days are now cold, with impending snow and ice, shortened by darkness of the Solstice.  There are frosts and chilly rain, snow in the mountains, and weather forecasters anxious about icy roads and howling winds born in the Arctic. Winter has also officially arrived.  

            It is a time to hunker down, wrapping yourself in a fuzzy blanket, sip hot tea and lose yourself in a good book, all without guilt or remorse for neglecting garden chores and the demands of a normal work day. Expectations for a productive day are limited to reading a few more chapters, maybe wrapping the last of the presents, and planning some fun adventures for the next few weeks. But, that can wait. It might be time for a nap.

            I join the community at the post office for that inevitable last minute mailing of packages and other finished projects.  We are all in a jovial mood, with the projects completed, and nothing left that’s urgent today, knowing that “it’s in the mail”, and our treasures and good works will arrive in “the usual course” of the mail.  We can relax. Our work is done, and all that is now out of our hands. Whatever we needed to mail today isn’t all that urgent, anyway. Last week was “panic week” and now we are on holiday time. 

            We are temporarily relieved of the obligations of our normal routines, able to push back and simply say “later”.  After all, it is everyone’s vacation time and our normal deadlines take a back seat to the excuse of “it’s the holidays”. 

            I find simple joy in reading cards and letters from relatives and dear friends, catching up on their lives. I like the fun of picking up a last minute present or two, and assembling the fun little presents for stockings. I can sit on the couch and enjoy a happy hour of a holiday show, without too much effort. 

            There’s also time for a little planning for next year, writing in birthdays and anniversaries on next year’s refrigerator calendar, and thinking I need to have a commitment to next year’s list of great books to read.  Not that I’m always successful with such a list, but my new year’s always starts off with good intentions.  Maybe this year, I’ll actually be somewhat methodical on what I read, rather than reverting to my old ways of spontaneity and randomness.  

            I’ve already written up my annual list of favorite books of the year, and sent it off to my  book loving friends, whether or not they are really interested in what I’ve been reading this year.  I send off the list, in hopes of inspiring them and giving them some ideas on some good books.  A trip to the library this week, to stock up on some books before the ice moved in, reminded me that the local library is truly a treasure in my life, a resource I rely on and find invaluable as a way to satisfy my curiosity and keep my mind occupied and challenged.  

            This time of being “off” and not on a schedule is a time to regroup and maybe think about being more organized on how I spend my time.  After all, being “retired” is a full time job, requiring a lot of intentional and methodical scheduling and planning. There are times I wonder if I should engage a planner, a scheduler for me, so I can use my time more efficiently, and be more organized in my life.  Then, I realize that is my job, well one of many jobs I now have.  Being retired, it is hard to keep up with all I have to do, all that I want to do.  There really isn’t enough hours in the day to fit it all in.  

            And, that’s the joy of retirement.  Not enough time to play. 

I recently talked with a friend who is going to retire in a few weeks.  They are anxious about what to do, how to “fill their time”.  They are worried that they don’t have a purpose anymore, not having a job description and a way of feeling accomplished, not “earning their keep”.  For me, I get that satisfaction in looking at what I do now, in “all my spare time”.  I told my friend there is lots to do, lots of accomplishments out there that will need their attention. Just start picking a few to take on and soon, filling your days takes care of itself, and you will find yourself needing to do some serious organization and planning of your time.  

            We Americans often don’t do much reflection and contemplation.  We don’t take enough time to play.  Many of us don’t take all of our vacation time, nor do we spend enough time with our loved ones.  I’m not sure of the value of what we’ve sacrificed for that, what we’ve given up.  Maybe we need to think about that, what we’ve given up, what we’ve lost, for that “more time at the office”.  I’d argue that exchange is a bad business deal, an unsatisfying trade in the marketplace of our lives.  

            The days now are supposed to be getting longer, though the physical proof of that still seems lacking, as the dark nights and the long gloomy twilights of winter afternoons still close in on me.  I’ll drag out the seed catalogs soon, and I’m already starting to think of some gardening projects I want to take on.  Some day, hopefully sooner than later, I’ll stash my flannel shirts in the back of the closet, fold up the fuzzy blanket on my chair, and start building up the gardening callouses and weed out the flower beds.  

            Until then, I’ll take advantage of this winter rest, this pause in the frenzy of our lives, and focus on where I’m headed into the new year. 


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