Who can you be quiet with?

I used to be known as a loud chatterbox. Well, maybe not everyone everywhere saw me that way, but certainly many people saw me that way when I was around 20, 22.

Many people also expected me to have oak furniture in those days while in reality, I had a tech interior. The industrial look. White and steel, with a touch of burgundy.

Yes, I am energetic by nature – but one of the reasons why I became a loud chatterbox was that when I was a teenager, people kept saying things like “Why are you so quiet? Is something the matter?” (as if I would tell them, ha ha).

I’d be cheerful at 7 in the morning in the days when that was when my morning shifts started. Why? Because it beat giving in to feeling tired and resenting having to be at work at that early hour. Big time. “How can you be so cheerful and energetic this early in the day?” It was simply a choice I made, but I was still too young to realize that and I probably never provided a useful useful answer.

Chances are that I merely shrugged in response.

I drank tons and tons of coffee in those days, probably a minimum of 8 cups per day, perhaps even twice as many. The early shifts usually messed up my digestion and made me so tired that I’d often collapse on the bed the minute I got home. I wasn’t feeling any more positive about those early shifts than the people around me. In fact, I sometimes found the early public transport trips to work really depressing, but I refused to let despair and grouchiness grab hold of me.

Except that one time when I had a brief burnout that made me snap at people, and I needed to recharge the battery. It took me two weeks. Prolonged lack of sleep and constant changes in working hours can wear you out. I had simply gotten completely exhausted and was no longer able to put up the brave face, no longer able make the choice to be cheerful. But I digress.

I grew up near woods and moors. I often hung out there for hours, usually taking the family dog along, being anything but a loud chatterbox.

Becoming a loud chatterbox got people to shut up about me being too quiet.

I am not a real introvert, but I am not a real extrovert either. I am somewhere in between. I love to entertain, and I miss the hustle and bustle of big cities when I am away from them, but I want the noisy parts of life to be balanced by a lot of quiet.

That was really important to me when I had jobs that required me to talk all day. The one with the shifts that started at 7 in the morning was one of them, and that too was part of the explanation for my attitude. You can’t be grouchy to hotel guests at 7 in the morning. Well, you can, of course, but I preferred not to. That’s what working in hospitality is about. In fact, behind my back, management held me up as an example to some of my colleagues, one of them told me. “Why can’t you be more like her? She’s always smiling, always cheerful.”

(Couldn’t that manager have said something to me about that too? Would have been nice.)

In those days, after my relocation from a room in Baarn in an often noisy environment (and with a long commute to work) to a flat in Amsterdam, not too far from Theater Carré, I relished that I was able to come home to peace and serenity, not having to talk and not being bombarded with more chatter after my shifts.

I also remember a time when I was working two jobs and used the metro ride in between as my little oasis of quiet during which I recharged the battery. Oh, how dismayed I was when very loud and insistent buskers burst into the mini meditations during which I made my mind go blank or simply gave in to daydreams. They wanted a response. They insisted. Please gimme some money or look at me and say that you won’t. Yes, I understand that. Fortunately, they’d usually just work the car – one person playing, the other one asking everyone for money – and then move on to the next one.

Living in a big city is often much quieter than a lot of people think. If you wander around, you may even discover delightful oases of silence that you never knew existed and at night, most streets become quiet enough. On the other hand, I like the nice fuzzy feeling of having lots of people living around me. There is just some cosiness to it that I can’t explain to anyone who prefers to live anywhere but in cities.

When they’re at peace, that is. Ugly protests, fights and clashes usually make me want to take a detour, and those too happen in cities. Huge masses of people celebrating a football win (soccer) aren’t my cup of tea either.

When I happen to live very close to a natural shoreline, I can sit quietly watching the waves for hours, all by myself. But I haven’t done that in years.

People I can be completely quiet around, and with, are rare, though. They’re true treasures. The quiet seems to mean we’re in sync, and it almost never happens with complete strangers. When it does, it is with one of those people who instantly feel as if you’ve known them your entire life.

I remember driving to the Dutch city of Maastricht with one of my sisters, many years ago, and both of us being forced to shut up because every time one of us said something, that was exactly what the other one had been thinking. So we gave in, stopped talking and enjoyed the serenity, the harmony. We were at peace.

Who are you at peace with?

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