Had a nice lunch out today with my husband–and the weather man. The weather man wasn’t invited; he was thrust upon us as part of a corporate order.
It was only Arby’s, the one connected to a gas station here in town, so obviously we weren’t expecting ambience. We did expect to be able to talk to each other without raising our voices. I suppose it was our fault for sitting at a table under the wall-mounted TV in order watch our dog who was waiting for us in the car.
We got up and moved, and later complained to the manager about the television blaring while we ate. She wanted to know if something on the screen had offended us. (I suspect the weather channel was chosen as the one least apt to offend someone with its content, unless you’re particularly sensitive to snow reports.)
We said no; we just didn’t see the necessity of having the television on at all while trying to eat. She apologized, and offered to turn it down–but said she couldn’t turn it off entirely. Orders from headquarters.
Arby’s isn’t the problem, of course. It’s the inability to turn off our gadgets that seems to pervade society these days. People can’t even walk down the street without a phone attached to their ears. I could well believe that there are people who would be uncomfortable eating in a restaurant where they had to actually look at each other, and where the only entertainment was conversation. I suspect an awful lot of American families eat in front of the television. Arby’s–and increasingly more and more restaurants–are only catering to this American fixation.
It happens at work, too. Our part-time job as retired people is in the newspaper mail room, a noisy place with bundle tiers thumping, carts of newspapers bumping and clattering across the uneven floor, and people shouting back and forth to each other. Why then must someone always turn the radio on? Most of the time it can barely be heard, and when it is, it only adds to the cacophany.
I suppose it’s understandable, then, that total silence is a rarity in our culture. Countless people have admitted to me that they have to have the radio or television on as background noise when they’re home alone. When our parish recently made available a room where individuals are welcome to spend a day in silent reflection, I saw a vague hint of panic in the eyes of those who heard about it. The first thing several did was offer to donate music CDs for the room.
The idea, I gently explained, is to be quiet; to shut off the noise, the distractions, and listen to your own thoughts and feelings. Maybe–amazing thought–even listen to God. I love to enjoy music–my husband is a musician who creates fabulous music of his own–but there’s a time to turn it all off and listen to the still, small voices of our hearts that are usually drowned out, sometimes intentionally, by the daily distractions we’ve become addicted to.
While days spent in silence and solitude might be more than most people are ready for, I should think we could at least get through a lunch at Arby’s without sharing our table with the weather man.