The real war being fought in America today is against peace and quiet. It's a war being won by the forces of noise and distraction. Contemplation and quiet come in a distant second to Angry Bird apps and texts from friends about how wrinkly their body got in the shower this morning -- something made no more attractive than it might otherwise be by the fact that the tweeter is limited to a 140-character description. It's amazing how many queasy moments can be squeezed into that few characters.
Given as I am possibly the last person left on earth who doesn't own a cell phone, I am frequently asked what I plan to do when land lines are completely phased out of existence, going the way of the dodo bird and pay phones. My answer is that I may just forgo that form of communication completely.
Unlike in my youth, giving up my phone does not mean giving up my ability to communicate. I have e-mail that, quite frankly, I enjoy much, much more than phones because I can send and receive them at my leisure. I can contemplate what a friend has written and take my time in responding. I can hit the spam button for things that annoy me and hit the delete button for things that I have no need to retain.
Each year I am more and more amazed by people who are virtual prisoners to their phones. They are seemingly incapable of putting them down without having them within gazing distance. They keep one eye on you as you converse with them and one eye on the phone for fear they will miss a text in which someone will tell them that they just entered a Starbucks and plan to order a latte. Or, even more frightening, they are so unable to disconnect from their wired world that they keep only one eye on the road while the other eye reads a text.
I was horrified by the hit and run accident that killed a man last spring on the Tudor overpass. Not only did the perpetrator flee the scene, thus leaving the man to die, but this alleged perpetrator's first response to the incident was to text OMG over and over again to her friend while probably still driving. Who does that?
There is a need in this world for us all to take some quiet time for peaceful contemplation of our surroundings. We need to make time for silence into which we can project our thoughts and sort them out. We need to not respond immediately to every stimulus because, quite frankly, our first impulses are not necessarily our best impulses.
I spend long hours of silence in my home. No phone. No TV. No radio. No computer. It's just me and my birds and dog sitting quietly watching the fire in the fireplace. I will lazily read a book and allow myself the time to look up from what I'm reading to contemplate a statement made by the author that has in some way struck a chord in my soul. I am completely happy and content. It's not that I don't need people or companionship or noise. I do. But I don't need it all the time. I don't need or want constant stimulation because then I don't have the time to process the world and feel comfortable with my responses to its promptings.
I sometimes wonder if I'm the last person on earth who can let a phone ring and not give a darn about answering it. That, according to my philosophy, is what god made answering machines for. Unless it is a friend or relative calling with a tragedy, it is something that can wait until I'm ready to respond.
If there is one Christmas wish I would have for the world this year, it would be for all of us to relearn the joy of silence and quiet, and the ability to pass that joy on to our children who sometimes seem unable to disconnect from the constant noise that has become the ubiquitous background of their lives.
This Christmas Eve, sit silently with your family and enjoy the feel of simply being able to enjoy another year together. Let the conversation be desultory and the love be loud.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.