Deciding where to live can be daunting. Sometimes we relocate for reasons beyond our control; other moves are based on employment opportunities, lower costs of living, affordable housing, school systems, security, closeness to family, or a long-term desire to live in a place like Cape Cod. We weigh factors such as medical resources, proximity to shopping locations, or the availability of plumbers, electricians, or landscaping. Contemporary criteria may include adequate Wi-Fi and cell phone service. Other needs to be considered before relocating to a new community include cultural, educational, and sporting opportunities, public transportation, recreational resources, religious communities, friendly, welcoming neighbors, or perhaps their willingness to respect our privacy.
Ten years ago I moved to Harwich in part because of its community center and the Brooks Free Library. Since then I have learned to appreciate the convenience of shopping in East Harwich, walking the Cape Cod Rail Trails, the relative privacy of a tucked-away beach at the end of Long Pond, soccer games, easy accessibility to Brewster, Chatham, and Orleans, and craft fairs in Brooks Park. Finding an affordable house in a relatively quiet neighborhood helped make moving to Harwich the right retirement decision. Many of my personal expectations are met living in Harwich.
However, where do I go to be quiet? To get away and be alone? To be still and experience silence? To recharge my batteries, sort through my issues and discover answers to my questions? Communities do not usually address these basic needs; yet meeting them can be as important as supplying education, medical care, or law enforcement.
Recently I asked a group of friends this question:
“Where do you find silence in your life? Where and when can you be still and allow something out there or inside of you to speak to you?”
Their answers were interesting. Most acknowledged having such a need, and each has their own strategy for meeting it. Many succeed and live meaningful lives as a result. Those who do not meet it feel the negative results. The majority of responders are self-directed in seeking times, places, and ways to find silence, though a few depend on friends to achieve that goal. One said she found no room for stillness in her busy life, while another has tried but failed to stop what he calls the cacophonous nature of his world. No one said they used professional resources, nor did any mention what had prompted my original question. Should their communities offer opportunities and resources for meeting this quality-of-life need of its residents?
Harwich (whether the town or the community) does not intentionally address this task, especially during the summer when its population, activity, and noise levels grow exponentially. However, a few isolated spots lend themselves to solitude, though in season that happens only in the early morning or the evening. I enjoy using the two benches located in one case beside the Cape Cod Rail Trail between Headwaters and Route 124, and in the other, at the end of an almost hidden path at the east end of Red River Beach. Many of the public walking areas can provide opportunities for silence, though during summer the CCRT is not one of them. Thompson’s Field Conservation Area, Bell’s Woods, an abandoned bog on Bank Street, the Lavender Farm, the grounds of the Evensong Retreat Center, and several trails, conservation lands, and dirt roads around town, if one is lucky to visit them at the right time, offer the solitude required to bring balance to the lives of Harwich’s residents.
The above are all outdoors – are there buildings that offer similar opportunities? Harwich’s religious institutions, for instance. An informal survey shows that few are fully open, easily accessible, and likely to be quiet during the daylight hours when a person might wish to visit them for this purpose, and none is available at night. However, their grounds (often including a cemetery) are usually open to the public.
The three S’s – solitude, stillness, and silence – necessary for contemplation, meditation, listening to whatever speaks to us from outside and within, are vital for healthy balanced human beings. In our crowded, noisy, and busy world they are elusive unless by deliberate effort we make them a part of our lives. A community can create and support opportunities for these basic needs to be met. Is Harwich a place where we can be alone, still, silent, and open to listening to who or what we need to hear? The sound of silence.