There are all types of quiet.
There is a pause when the ocean stops to look over her shoulder of salt and torn seaweed. In the pulse of her approach, she quickly crumbles in a mad fury of surge and riptide.
There is the kind of quiet that feels deserved – the brief repose of a new mother, collapsed limbs and tired eyes on the couch.
Quiet nuzzles its way into the pores of all things natural and synthetic, in the molecules of cement, steel, mud and root.
It is found in the gap between an absorbed thought, a pensive stare and a final decision to leave that someone or something behind.
You can plug your ears and find it, bury your head beneath stacks of pillows and fall asleep to it.
It is feared by many when it settles in for too long and some may even try to scream it away. For others, it is their cherished beloved. Their one and only. They wonder how it is that so few hear its symphony of building potential, turning their back on its radiance.
It is Quiet in which all other veins of wisdom join – a systolic and diastolic rhapsody toward the gospel of the heart.
Every Sunday in Hong Kong the Filipino community gathers en masse in the business sector of downtown. They roll out blankets and cardboard boxes that take up every inch of sidewalk and alleyway along Queens Road Central. While the suits of Lan Kwai Fong decide to play tennis or board Cathay business class thousands of feet above the South China Sea, Hong Kong’s working class sets up camp, rain or shine, to spend one day a week with their family and friends. Music rattles from the tinny speakers of old ghetto blasters. Card games are dealt. Moms and daughters braid each others hair. Their versions of dim sum fill the air with a pungent haze above portable hibachis. It is their one day of rest when the cement of Hong Kong becomes their instant beach…and I totally get it.
Stephen recommended to me that it’s worth the walk on any given Sunday to the massive entranceway of the towering HSBC building and stand in the middle of their audible sandstorm of language, laughter and song. Eyes closed, head tilted back. These were his exact instructions: “Walk right to the middle, stand still and close your eyes. It’s such a trip.”
I can see him now, standing with his palms open by his sides, the speed of bodies brushing past him, the still man amidst a time lapsed frenzy. His long jowl, nose and thin lips lifting to reveal a hairsbreadth of a smile, folding creases of skin upon stubble. He would catch the noise like a sorcerer, two palms full of quiet in the clamber and clang. In and out of it he floats and takes what he needs to fill up. The details that others may miss in haste, he gathers and stacks them, one top of the other in his gallery of a cerebral kind. The Museum of the Not so Obvious. When others rush forward, he steps ten feet back. When others decide to leave, he stays still to witness the unimpressive percolate into the divine, its fullness bubbling off the edges and into the now.
He is selective of whom he lets in to these inner workings of his. Whether it is sacred or silly, he’s not much for small talk. No one enters too soon because he believes in good timing, even if it takes years. This is the intangible that can’t be planned, forced or tidily nailed down over a quick tea and high five. The natural order of things is what he so loves.
The traces of his past days are barely mentioned. Was he an architect or was he a photographer? Or was he both? (I still have no idea). I’m never quite sure where he is half the time. Is he is in Hong Kong? Is he in India with a revered guru that he hasn’t told anybody about and probably never will? Or is he in Thailand, exchanging Euros for Baht between Koh Samui and Bangkok? Or maybe he is balancing a tuning bowl on his knee in Sri Lanka waiting for the jungle to sing back to him.
To say Stephen is elusive is an understatement but it is what all of us love most about him and respect. I didn’t see him for my first month after moving to Hong Kong and when I finally did, he kissed both of my cheeks outside of a Central Hong Kong high rise (as though I had seen him a week before) and asked me over the mid-rush hour traffic if I could substitute one of his classes. It was so laissez faire and I was so pissed! My little sister-ness wanted a running leap of a hug but instead I gave him a little laugh because we both appreciate odd responses and unexpected laughter. He is my powerfully quiet older brother whom I love and respect. Unbeknownst to him, he was part of the partnership that pushed me to the edge of the yoga vortex that has had me free falling ten years deep.
In 2001, Stephen and I first met in the lobby of a yoga studio he co-owned in Whistler. It was the first and biggest yoga studio that had the entire mountain town upside down and sweating far too much for their own good. He eyeballed me from behind the front desk when I was a new student and we barely knew one another. I had just finished my third class of the day, in the manically ridiculous way that many new students do during the romance phase of yoga. I sat on a bench in a daze, gasping between shots of electrolytes.
I told him I was on my way to Maui the next day for no reason other then escaping a contract with a boss from hell who did things like shit in the front foyer bathroom every morning, the door wide open and always leaving a skid mark. (Yes, that kind of boss). I was jobless, broke and adamant on scraping my way to Hawaii.
Our conversation went something like this:
“You need a job?”
Me: “Um, ya?”
“Okay, call me when you get back from Maui.”
Ten days later I had a job.
That’s how it all started for me. It was uneventful. It was unplanned. It was Quietly Auspicious. And it turned out to be one of the most serendipitous moments of my life.
Thank you, Stephen Thomas, for hearing the chorus that others might not hear… for calling me in and welcoming me home.