Listening to the Quiet

Assistant editor Daniel Kessel wasn’t up for conversation–but he couldn’t ignore a curious thought…

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Posted in , Apr 20, 2015

Bird soaring over a quiet lake. Photo: Thinkstock.

Today’s guest blogger is assistant editor Daniel Kessel.

One of my favorite stories in the April/May 2015 issue of Mysterious Ways comes from Senior Editor Rick Hamlin, an account of 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal’s spiritual epiphany. So when Rick posted a web-exclusive video about Pascal, I couldn’t wait to watch.

One line in particular stood out: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room,” Pascal once said.

Maybe it’s just because I tend toward shyness around the office, but that advice really resonated with me. Imagine–what if we were content all the time, even during life’s quieter moments?

Pascal’s wisdom echoed in my head one recent afternoon while I washed my coffee mug in the office kitchen. I didn’t feel much like talking. I just wanted to get another caffeine-filled cup of coffee and go back to writing. A quiet room sounded great to me.

“Hey, Daniel,” a cheerful voice said. Rick, one of the few people in the office who calls me “Daniel” instead of my nickname, “Dan.” He walked into the kitchen and switched on the electric kettle for his tea.

“How are you?” I replied. Rick said he was doing great and opened the cupboard for a tea bag. I finished cleaning my mug and pressed the button on the coffee machine. For a moment, we stood in silence. Golden silence, exactly the kind Pascal would have praised.

But then a thought popped into my head. Ask about Europe. Huh? Where’d that come from? To my knowledge, Rick didn’t have any vacations coming up. But as much as I wanted to grab my coffee and go, the urge wouldn’t disappear. Ask about Europe! Rick poured hot water into his mug–in a second he’d leave the kitchen. I blurted it out before I could stop myself.

“So, uh, do you have any trips to Europe coming up?” I asked.

Rick’s eyes lit up. “Well, yes,” he said. “My wife and I are flying to Italy this weekend!” An old colleague had contacted him at the last minute, he explained, and asked for consulting help on a writing project in Rome. “How did you know?” he asked.

Until that moment, I didn’t. We stood in the kitchen for a while longer and discussed Rick’s unexpected trip abroad. Inside, I was amazed. My question about Europe seemed to come from nowhere. Like someone had wormed his way into my brain, forced me to break the silence and speak.

I still agree with Pascal’s advice that silence is key for inner peace. Sometimes, though, a quiet voice speaks to us in that silence, and spurs us to connect with others. I know I won’t ignore it in the future.

Has a casual conversation ever led you to something or someone unexpected? A much-needed friend, or even a life-saving connection? Don’t be shy–tell us your stories!

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