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A time to hit the pause button

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, November 23, 2013

When I can, I like to listen to Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio (5 p.m. Saturdays on 90.1 FM – but this is not a commercial).

It’s got wit, skits, good music, terrific sound effects, recurring characters and a weekly story that Keillor tells about the very real folks in his imaginary hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minn.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

It’s great background while working in the shop, garage or kitchen.

When the kids were home, we used to catch it in the car now and then, on the way to somewhere. The kids were OK with the music, but they couldn’t stand Keillor’s stories.

He does have kind of a reedy, public-radio voice – but I think it was the long … pauses … that really bothered them.

He speaks slowly and obviously believes in the value of a good pause. He paints a picture with his words, and it’s painted on a canvas of silence.

That’s an unfamiliar sound to most of us these days.

We live in a sea of noise amid the hum of HVAC, the roar of passing cars and airplanes, the chatter of a radio, television or police scanner, barking dogs, distant conversations and the constant beeping and buzzing of phones and intercoms.

When we actually do experience silence, it comes as a shock. We hum the “Smurfs” theme, drum our fingers, talk to ourselves, look for our phone.

Remember the 1960s hit song, “Silence is Golden”? It would never make the charts today. “Silence is Weird” would be more likely.

Paul Harvey, the late radio newsman, was the master of the dramatic pause – he was even parodied for it (Paul Harvey … … … G’day!). But I loved listening to his rendition of the day’s headlines, mixed with odds-and-ends from all over, salutes to people’s anniversaries and cornball humor.

As a reporter, I appreciate pauses. I record most interviews now, but when I used to write everything down (or try to), a pause was a golden moment when my pen could catch up.

Now, transcribing those recorded interviews, I find myself deeply thankful for folks who pause to gather their thoughts, letting me type without having to push the pause button.

But that’s a button we should all push more often.

How many times have I blurted out something, then fervently wished I had waited just a moment before I spoke?

How often have I dashed off a strongly-worded letter or email, or put my head down and plowed ahead, when just pausing to assess the consequences would have resulted in a very different course of action?

(I’m going to pause here while you supply your own examples …)

All this helps explain why fall is my favorite season. Fall feels like a pause – a brief respite before winter arrives in full force. Fall is summer taking a deep breath, dropping its hands to its sides and unclenching its fists.

Fall is summer sighing before it lets go.

It lends itself to contemplation, walks in the woods, long rocks in the porch swing, watching leaves drift unhurried from the trees. It makes us reflective on a year that is not yet over, but slipping gently away.

Maybe that’s where Keillor learned the art of the pause. I hear there are lots of trees in Minnesota.

Up there, they also get winter – and the entire world pauses when a silent blanket of deep snow settles over everything and puts it all on hold.

That happens here, too, but not often enough.

In my limited experience of those times, if you’ve got firewood, food, friends, family and a few board games, they are wonderful.

Walking in the snow after a blizzard is about as quiet as the world ever gets. Snow not only pauses – it softens, beautifies, muffles and insulates.

Here’s hoping we get one or two of those this winter.

The psalmist establishes a connection between the pause and faith when he says, “Be still, and know that I am God …” (Psalm 46:10, New International Version).

Enjoy your holiday, however it presents itself. But amid the food, football, revelry, shopping and travel, don’t forget to hit the pause button.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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