Editor’s note: This column was first published in The Times and Democrat in July 2009.
One of the negative aspects of our modern culture is the drive to be in constant motion, bouncing from one activity to another without even a thought as to why we’re doing it, whether or not we actually enjoy it or whether we see any real purpose to it. How can we give credence to such thoughts as long as we’re so busy? Our minds race as quickly as our bodies.
Years ago, I discovered the importance of quiet places that allow for rest and contemplation, places that permit us to withdraw from the busyness of life to reflect and to evaluate.
I didn’t know it then, but what seemed like a disappointment turned into an important era in my young life. I almost missed it. As I began the process of moving from high school to college, I had big dreams. At the time, I was a faithful Alabama football fan and had already decided to attend the University of Alabama. I applied, received my acceptance and found a roommate. I was ready to go, excited about the opportunity to attend college in a bustling Southern city and to be a part of one of college football’s most legendary programs.
Then one day I became aware of one of the consequences of my plans. In quite casual conversation, my mom made it known that trips home from Alabama probably would be rare because of the distance. It would be difficult to get rides all the way to Orangeburg, and even if I could get to Atlanta, that would mean an eight-hour round trip to meet me. Airfare was out of the question.
The dream of going to Alabama was quickly overshadowed by the reality of long separations from the people and places that were so familiar. I was not prepared for that.
Throughout my life, I had passed through the quaint and quiet town of Due West, S.C., on the way to see my grandmother. The town intrigued me. There were no stoplights. Very little traffic. No billboards. No fast food restaurants. No movie theater. No mall. There was something different about this place. There was a quietness about it that whispered peace, and as we drove into the town, it was as if our minds and bodies took a deep, deep breath, to be exhaled only as we exited the town shortly thereafter.
I was curious about this place that seemed to be a sanctuary, a respite from the busyness of life. Each time we drove through, I felt a sort of awe that such a place could still exist and be viable. Small towns die in the shadow of progress, but Due West did not. It thrived in a quiet way.
The heart of Due West is Erskine College, and due to my familiarity with the town, it was the only other college to which I had applied. It had been my backup plan. And it was only 120 miles away from home. Accepted there, I made the decision to go.
For the next four years, I missed out on the busy life of a major university. Instead I learned the value of a slower pace. For the next four years, I missed out on big city life, with bustling traffic, crowds of people and constant activity. Instead I learned the value of Saturday afternoon bicycle rides through the countryside, the joy of a smaller circle of friends and the creative energy that arises from a mind uncluttered with the trappings of modern life.
For the next four years, I learned the value of quiet places. It was a lesson for a lifetime.
And I almost missed it.
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