Thomas Merton was an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. In his short 53-year life, he wrote many books and has many outstanding quotes attributed to him. One of my favorites is:
“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony. Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it; without the alternation of sound and silence, there would be no rhythm.”
When I read that, I think about my summer of 1976. I had finished two years of college and my best friend, my younger brother, and I decided to bicycle the west coast from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, Calif. We planned, we practiced, we packed.
We flew to Vancouver and immediately found that our route took us through a tunnel that was for autos only. After catching a ride through the tunnel, we rode south on Vancouver Island until a series of warning bumps across the road caused the three of us to crash into each other and tumble onto the side of the highway — our egos more bruised than our bodies. This was only the first day!
The ferry ride into Washington was awesome. But then back on the road, logging trucks raced past us just inches away. It seemed like everything was uphill; and when it wasn’t, the wind blew in our faces and it felt like it was uphill.
My best friend cracked. As soon as we got to Northern California, he flew home. The frenzy of the traffic was too much for him.
My brother and I continued south on Highways 101 and 1, with RV mirrors whizzing past us just inches away and the wind blast from the vehicles pushing us off the road into the gravel.
We certainly lived each day at the “highest peak of intensity.” That is when my brother’s knees began to bother him (his bike was the heaviest of our three), and he flew home from San Francisco.
I was alone. And, I was 800 miles from San Diego. And that is when my pace slowed down. I rode over the coast range into the interior of California to visit a close friend in Modesto.
After a couple of days there, I rode on across central valley to Yosemite Valley. I was awestruck. It was more impressive and moving than any picture. I cycled around the valley just soaking in the grandeur. But I could travel at my pace.
One day, it was so hot I just got off my bike and laid down, clothes and all, in the creek, soaking in a different way. Bliss. When I was ready, I rode back across the valley to Big Sur and the coast highway and headed south once again.
One morning on the coast highway, an RV pulled over and stopped me. It was the parents of a friend from school who knew I was on this adventure. We had a lovely picnic lunch before they and I were on our ways again. As Merton says, I had found my balance and rhythm and harmony.
And that is how I discovered that I am an introvert, living in an extroverted and energized society. The residents at Garden Terrace require the extroverted Ken to get many things done every day, but I know that I need silence and enough space to really enjoy my senior moments. As mystic poet Rumi said:
“The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.” Pretty good advice for anybody these days.
Kenneth E. Neher is executive director of the Garden Terrace senior living community, for whom he writes “Senior Moments.” These columns periodically appear in The Wenatchee World.