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The power of quiet

Not to be too dramatic or irritatingly metaphorical, but it turns out that taking a trip alone is a lot like retiring. Conceptually it sounds amazing, at once freeing and introspective. And in reality it is much of that. But, like so many things, you can’t really understand how it feels until you’re doing it.

A couple of days ago, my French teacher asked me what it was like to be travelling by myself. Of course, since I hadn't taken a French class for 50 years, it took me ten minutes to understand what she was asking and another five to figure out how to respond, but I knew what I wanted to say: It is very quiet. I realized on my way back to my apartment from her place that I would use that same word to describe retirement. It certainly isn’t the only aspect of either situation, but it pervades both. In fact, it is the quiet that marks one of the profound differences between traveling with someone and traveling solo. Quiet is also what distinguishes the world of work from being at home engaged in my own activities.

I’m still growing accustomed to the sound of my own thoughts, unfiltered by that raspy mix of constant interaction and days scheduled to

the minute.

After working for nearly 35 years, it has taken me another two to sweep out the dregs of worries, concerns, and complaints that filled my head for all that time. As an introvert (with good social skills, I always say), I was exhausted by the constant conversation of the workplace. And many of those were wonderful, creative discussions. It’s just that, after awhile, I unconsciously accepted the fact that my brain and soul were too full to do their best work. Even now I’m still growing accustomed to the sound of my own thoughts, unfiltered by that raspy mix of constant interaction and days scheduled to the minute.

When I described my time in Paris as quiet, I could tell that my French teacher wasn’t sure if that was a positive or a negative for me. Even I was momentarily surprised at my quick reply, but I could feel exactly what I meant inside me. It certainly wasn't a week-in-the-idyllic-countryside kind of silence. My apartment was on a busy square filled with the clatter of sidewalk café dishes and scooters without mufflers, so it wasn't literally quiet in any way. But the minute I got there, I realized what it meant to be just me on my own figuring out how I want to be and feel in the world. Lots of stimulation, but a head unencumbered by worrying about someone else, or negotiating when, where, and what we eat, or even simply having to see the world through someone else’s eyes. There is a time and place for all of that, and in real life I rely heavily on other people’s views to give me perspective. But this trip alone let me try out some stuff on my own terms.

That’s how I feel most days in this somewhat new retired life of mine. I’m making up my own rules as I go along. I find myself leaning toward asking other people if it seems OK, or if I should do it some other way, but most of my friends are still employed, making me a bit of a solo traveler in retirement land, as well. So, whether I’m standing on Pont Neuf looking at the Seine, or figuring out for myself how to use the gigantic mass of time I was gifted when I stopped working, I think it’s that quiet place inside of me that is growing and benefitting most.

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