In my spiritual quest for solitude and silence, I have become increasingly sensitive to and intolerant of noise pollution. Loud voices. Doors slamming. Talk radio and television commercials blaring. And most of all, gardeners with their blaring weed-whackers and leaf blowers. I can tolerate the mowers but whatever happened to old-fashioned raking and week pulling? I wince sometimes at the rant inside my head that vehemently berates this generation’s lack of courtesy and awareness of others. Although this indignation may be righteous, I learned recently that an attitude adjustment was in order if I truly want to become the “wise elder” I seek to be.

Although we have a large yard, my husband and I do not have a gardening service anymore. We installed artificial turf in the backyard a few years ago because of the drought and although I still have fifteen rosebushes, beds of succulents, and many potted plants, we find it therapeutic to tend to them ourselves. We are apparently in the minority on our block. Almost every day, gardeners in big trucks arrive and the noise recital begins from morning until late afternoon: first mowers, then loud radios, voices, weed-eaters, and finally, those ear-piercing leaf blowers. Stymied from any possibility for quiet meditation,. I put on my noise-canceling Air Pods and play Gregorian chant to block out the cacophony.

Last week, when I rounded the corner on my daily walk, I came face-to-face with my neighbor’s gardener. He was mindlessly blowing their leaves and yard debris into my flowerbed which I had just painstakingly weeded and watered. I stood like a warrior poised for battle in the middle of my sidewalk. Immediately, he turned off the blower and reassured me he would clean up the mess he had made in my yard straight away. This was my chance, I thought, and struck up a conversation with him about leaf blowers and noise and why sending so much dust into the atmosphere was necessary. Above his mask, his eyes looked careworn and tired. He told me that he hated the blowers, too, and showed me the earplugs he wore to decrease the literally deafening decibels that bombarded him his whole workday. Up to him, he would get rid of his machine but circumstances did not allow such a luxury because, without it, he simply could not compete.

We talked about his daily schedule. He said he covered a 50-mile radius, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, approximately 30 minutes at each house. I quickly did the calculations – so that meant doing 10-15 residences a day? He nodded. Even if he wanted to rake leaves instead of blowing them into the street, he did not have time. Cutting back was not an option. He had a big family who depended on him. Without using these loud tools, his livelihood would be drastically diminished. Moreover, he could not pay his nephew (the assistant standing sheepishly at a distance) who was taking online college classes. I suddenly felt very small and thanked him for talking to me. I knew he had to get going if he was going to beat the clock.

I sat on my front porch step and forced myself to listen to this gentle man’s leaf blower but now it sounded more like some weird neo-classical music that my untrained mind heretofore could not appreciate. After packing up the tools, he smiled and waved to me as they drove away. I waved back, surrounding him with love and light, my go-to intercessory prayer practice. I felt a little like Thomas Merton when he was pierced with love for the people on the street corner in Louisville. Agape (the love of God) is like that – unconditional, no strings attached, a gift of grace, spontaneous, epiphanous, descending when least expected, shattering brick and mortar, pettiness and self-righteousness. Agape cracks open the dusty doors of the heart with simply a few minutes of human contact.

Today, we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day and I plan to leave some heart cookies in a tin for my neighbor’s gardener. He and his nephew might enjoy the unexpected treat. Unbeknown to them, they helped my heart expand to embrace the totality of human experience, full of silence–and noise.


  1. “some weird neo-classical music that my untrained mind heretofore could not appreciate”–What a wonderful turn of phrase! Plus, it beats listening to a Schoenberg Opera!


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