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Silentium

You may not know this, but there is catholic boarding school in my past. It was a small school, and we gathered thrice daily in the refectorium, our dining hall. There, we were not allowed to talk. Instead, one student was delegated to read to us, usually an edifying text of a religious nature. Of course, you cannot have boys of that age together in one room and not expect them to make noise. Whenever the noise level threatened to drown out the reader, the padre on the head table would sharply ring a bell and call out “Silentium!” As strange as it may seem today, it worked with us. We’d all fall silent immediately, for a while anyway.

I had to fly to the East Coast the other day and was stuck for about five hours in front of a woman and a man. At the beginning of the trip, they did not know each other. But that soon changed. The woman started before take-off and continued throughout the flight to tell the man her life story, at the top of her voice. Not even jet engines could drown her out. I learned about her 15 [!] surgeries, her mother’s cancer, her 21-year old son’s run in with the law, the new home they were building, and much, much more. It was enough to want me get off the plane at 30,000 feet. How I wished I had a bell and the power of my boarding school’s call for silentium!

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