Come back, but silently

May 4, 2012

This summer, I’ll be headed back to John Carroll University for a reunion of the Class of 1992.

It’s been 20 years since I graduated with a degree in communications, ending a very enjoyable four years in suburban Cleveland. As I was preparing then to move far away to Hawaii — to hang out with my dad, learn to surf and work to pay off my student loans (just $5,000) — a mentor said to me, “Anton, don’t forget, you can always come back.” That advice meant more than just returning to JCU. It was really a lesson in empowerment, a reminder that I didn’t need to feel stuck anywhere.

And so when my loans were paid off, I’d realized I was too blind and clumsy to surf well and my love affair with Erin wasn’t diminished, I did return to Cleveland, and gladly (also mentioned in my Cleveland Plain Dealer essay about running the Honolulu Marathon with dad). As Erin finished her fourth year at Carroll, I roamed the city working as a writer, bookseller and failed one-day waiter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a specific string of days during my college experience.

You know from my previous posts — A family orientation and Found in the archives: My story on The Story — that I contemplated the priesthood. As part of my discernment, and because JCU is a Jesuit university, one fall break I attended an eight-day silent retreat, in which I walked in the snow, read at length, wrote in a journal and generally contemplated where my life would take me. I spoke only briefly each day when I met with a spiritual advisor, and I listened intently for the voice of god, although only the cardinals and the brown squirrels seemed interested in talking to me.

Those eight days were a luxury, and I’m envious of my 20-year-old self. Now, my life is so much more full — wonderful family, great job, list of projects and plans (more about that in a post coming up) — and I’d love the opportunity to take 8 days for a silent retreat, or even the full 30 days for the Ignatian retreat that Jesuit novices complete before being ordained.

Two years ago, I took two days for a self-guided silent retreat to the North Carolina coast, and there I had an epiphany: Thinking places, or I am before I am reinforced the importance of quiet contemplation. As I wrote then, being a reader is fundamental to me being a writer and a thinker.

I was honored that my friend, Beck Tench, was inspired to take a retreat of her own.

This week, seeing that Harry Marks is giving up on words for a year made me chuckle, and shudder.

Just give me silence for 30 days, or 8, or 2, or tomorrow. I’ll be refreshed, and ready to come back.

Anton Zuiker

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