Friday, November 25, 2016

Unexpected Encounter with Silence and Dignity

Recently, an early Saturday morning found me in a coffee shop in Seattle.

I was in town to enjoy a weekend with my younger daughter.   The morning would be full of conversation and breakfast, catching up as Dad and daughter.  Later in the day, we would head to Husky Stadium, part of an unbelievably loud crowd of more than 70,000 yelling fans. That evening would come dinner with dear friends, celebrating 22 years of their marriage.   I had just a few moments, and stopped into the coffee shop to acquire the caffeine I would need to start the day.

It was just a routine stop.  Or so I thought.  Until I was visited by Silence and Dignity.

As I stood in line waiting to order I noticed out of the corner of my eye a group of four construction workers come in the door.  They queued in line behind me, but in a silent fashion not typical of guys who spend their day either making loud noises with heavy equipment, or yelling at one another in order to get the job done.  After a moment, I began to notice the growing quiet.  Others in the line noticed as well, so did the baristas; together we spied a lively conversation was occurring right behind us in line - all taking place in sign language without a single uttered sound.  Vivid facial expressions, accompanied by the rapid hand movements of sign language filled the silent air.  Conversation, connection, community, all occurring in utter stillness.

As this conversation continued, I smiled and took in this rare moment.  In the midst of a massive noisy city, on what would be a busy, sound-filled day, in a world filled with unceasing motion and noise, I was strangely drawn to this quiet yet vivid conversation taking place entirely without a single sound.  It seemed as if the whole mood of the coffee shop seemed to calm in response to these new visitors.

As my coffee came, the workers settled into a corner of the shop to continue their intense chat in an animated fashion that seemed to fill the room, all in absolute quiet.  In those wondrous still moments in that otherwise mundane corner of a busy city - a profound silence broke out.  How can quiet make so much beautiful visual noise?  It was wonderful.  Quiet in the midst of rushing.  Calm found in a completely unexpected place.

Something else was there.  Dignity.  These men, who were so animated, so vital, so at ease in the mist of their Saturday morning work break, seemed to exude a very special form of poise and dignity.

This was a normal work day for them in 2016.  But if we just remember back several decades, these same hearing-challenged folk would have been relinquished to occupations far more simple - and placed in a quiet corner of society, typically out of view of the rest of us.  And now, they were there with us all - a normal part of a working day.

I was reminded me of the words of the Apostle Paul,
"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
This small group of otherwise ordinary working men spoke without words to me of the unseen power of silence, of self-confidence, and of the dignity of work.

There is depth of meaning and strength to be found in places that look, well, muted and weak - at least to those of us who might take a few quiet moments, and listen.

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