sign on stone wall with man shushing for quiet

I’ve recently had to have a pretty invasive but not difficult or worrisome throat surgery. In addition to the first wave of healing pain and running-into-doors-and-corners hours waiting for general anesthesia to work its way out of my system, I am on seven days of forced vocal rest. Talk about out of your comfort zone.

Folks who know me are likely amused by this—what I do, under normal circumstances, is talk. A lot. I am on video conferences or calls many hours of just about every day. I might be shy when first meeting someone at a party, but once I get going, it’s hard to stop the verbal train from running on and on. I consider spirited debate an art form. While I’m happy to spend time alone or just with my dogs, I still chat their floppy ears off all day long.

It didn’t work into my schedule and commitments to use this time to go to some contemplative and beautiful silent meditation retreat (a thing I still long to try)…nope, I am all systems go at work, typing and texting instead of Skyping, so nothing has much changed but the volume I generate. I am regularly mocked by OK Google and Siri, but I simply respond to their Labrador-like ever-readiness with a bemused smile. Quiet doesn’t freak me out or even confront me, but it is definitely not my norm.

So here we are, deep into mute days.

It ain’t half bad. Sure, it challenged us when my partner and I took on building a big piece of furniture together—we’re actually really good at project cooperation, but we often use that parental refrain, “Use your words,” especially when moving big items up or down stairs. Taking away those words leads to some bruised knuckles but a fair bit of laughter, as well.

I had a call-in meeting for a non-profit organization’s board of directors with which I serve, but found a phone app that allows you to type text which is then read aloud by a robo-voice. Logging in to the call with the computerized “Hello, this is Andrew’s robot proxy” made it go easily, and I could type/vote on issues just fine, if not add to the discourse.

We had a delivery of some large items to the house that I had to receive, but not much was needed to write out a note to the truck driver in advance: “I’ve just had throat surgery so I’m sorry I am unable to speak—Thank You so much!”

Grocery store? A smile goes a long way. Sitting down for the evening at home? An old-school pile of recycled scratch paper and we can still solve the problems of the world (you’re welcome, world).

I don’t know that I’ve had any earth-shattering Ah-Ha moments or waves of inspiration, though I had earnestly hoped I would. (I also earnestly hope to see ghosts when I visit supposedly haunted spots, with similar results.) To console myself for not doing revelation correctly, I’ve looked toward pithy inspirational quotes about finding wisdom in silence.

Will Rogers is straight to the point: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

Alice chatting with the top hat guy: “ ‘I don’t think…’ ‘Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“Silence is a source of Great Strength” ~Lao Tzu

“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” ~Rumi

And, probably my favorite:

“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.” ~George Eliot, Impressions of Theophrastus Such

Oops—I guess that’s what I’ve just done…

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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