When I get to the redwood forest, the trees welcome me with the ancient eloquence of their silence. I’ve been away so long I’ve almost forgotten this feeling. My heart fills with tears of love.
Friday evening at the campsite, I silently prepare to answer them with the ancient eloquence of the ritual Shabbos (Sabbath) meal — candles, wine, challah, special foods, prayers and blessings.
Then comes the noise. The insistent, dominating whine from the camper that’s just pulled into the next camp site. I try to ignore it, to still my mind, to return to the loving gratitude of the ritual. I can’t do it. The noise is now dominating my evening. What to do?
A couple of years ago something similar happened. I felt upset and angry, walked over to the family in the camper, and asked them to have some consideration for other campers and please turn off their generator. The man had looked at my angry face, then at his wife and teenage sons, and shrugged. “The park rules say I can keep it on till 10:00,” he said. And he did. The noise drowned out my peace and serenity for the rest of the evening.
So I sit there surrounded by the noise, contemplating lessons I’ve been learning all my life from friends and teachers. I get up and walk over to the camper. There’s a couple about my age, the woman sitting outside reading, the man inside preparing dinner. I take an instant to look at them, to imagine their lives, their struggles and their hopes.
“Hi,” I say. “I’m camping across from you. Beautiful evening, isn’t it?” We introduce ourselves. He does most of the talking. She looks frail. Turns out they’re from Southern California, on their way back from visiting their son in Oregon. I tell them about my daughter and granddaughter in Portland.
“I’ve been wondering how long you’re planning to keep your generator on,” I say.
“The rules say we can keep it on till 10:00,” he answers. I just nod, without saying anything. He looks around at the campgrounds, mostly tents. “It’s pretty quiet here, isn’t it?” he says.
I nod again. “I think that’s why a lot of us come here.”
“Well, I don’t know, I guess we can turn it off after dinner, in about an hour or so.” He looks over at his wife. She nods.
“Well thanks,” I say. “I appreciate that. Enjoy your dinner!”
“Thanks. And you enjoy yours too.”
Back at the campsite, I say the blessing and light the candles. The noise from the generator is still strong. But the noise in my mind has gone, and I‘m able to be peacefully present in the silence.
A few minutes later, I notice that the outer noise is gone too. I walk back over to the camper. “Are you guys okay?” I say.
“Yeah,” he says, “I just shut it off.”
“Well, thanks,” I say.
He stands there a moment, looking a little awkward. “I just decided, I don’t like the smell!” The three of us laugh, and then talk some more about our kids.