Silence Car

Silence car

A wonderful feature of Dutch trains is the stiltecoupe, the silence car. I write there in the morning on my way to work.

I love silence. Before going into the seminary I read a lot of books by Thomas Merton, who was good at talking about it, and during my one year as a high school teacher, in Everett, Washington, I instituted “levels of silence” in the classroom. “Level zero” was the standard level: whispering or, at most, quiet talking. Below that you had “defcon one”: genuine silence, no talking, no whispering. And my favorite, “defcon two”: absolute silence, “quiet enough to hear the hair growing on your arm.” The kids were not keen on this approach and you’ll understand why I lasted only one year.

Nonetheless, I have persisted in loving silence, having seen in my own life that you can learn an awful lot just by keeping your mouth shut. At first, I thought the stiltecoupes would never catch on, but it turns out there are many like me who rejoice in the quiet.

Sometimes, though, you do have to remind people of the rules. Last week I was sitting in second-class silence, but could hear through the glass wall someone talking in first-class silence. So I entered to remind them. “This is a silence car.” Not until I was halfway into my sentence did I see that the two talkers were the conductors. The nearest fellow in uniform asked, “Could you hear me talking?”

“Sorry,” he said.