“Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall.”—Fulton J. Sheen
Over the past week I have been careful to set aside the end of the day for a quiet winding down, avoiding the temptation of electronic indulgence—whether in front of the television or, worse, the computer. On the other hand, when I fail to constructively do nothing, moments of repose and recuperation are frittered away. It seems like it’s “always late!” and there’s no graceful transition from frenetic activity to slumber. The remedy is simple. Yet true leisure takes more initial effort than dissipation.
The moment I begin to catch my breath—after putting the children to bed—it is time to sit in silence. The quiet of the night settles upon the soul. I ponder the things I have built and thought and worked for, yet there is a detachment from them too that allows me to savor them more than when in the whirl and fury of the day’s ambitions.
Each season has its own ways of welcoming the solitude of nighttime. In the spring and early summer, it is the gentle onset of twilight. I have memories of the fading sky as seen through the bedroom window of an old apartment from early marriage. In the gloaming I looked out on the trees in the back lot. That soothing vista, modest as it was, returns to me with the opening notes of the Tallis Fantasia by Ralph Vaughan Williams. His bucolic motifs and gently swelling strings are like vespers in the Garden of Eden.
The colder months render twilight gray and dreary, but by way of compensation the haze of summer is gone. We are presented with the crisp, scintillating night sky. The patterns of the stars are both tranquil and majestic. While the dark is a forbidding thing to our frail humanity, evoking all the ancient terrors, the stars reassure us. They lift us above cares, trivialities, and every imperfection below. To gaze at the stars is to look upon the nursery of creation. They are like the reassuring glow of houses descried by the lonely traveller at a distance, or the light of candles on a Christmas tree as seen by a child. These elemental feelings are touched on by Hilaire Belloc:
There are primal things which move us. Fire has the character of a free companion that has traveled with us from the first exile; only to see a fire, whether he need it or no, comforts every man. Again, to hear two voices outside at night after a silence, even in crowded cities, transforms the mind (Preface to The Old Road).
So it is that I await the end of the day, with a strangely heightened sense of sight and sound in the darkling stillness. The noonday devils have fled. And the commonplace things are given not so much new, but clearer, meaning.