Learning to be Still
August 1, 2007
I walked up the few steps to the front door of the restaurant. It was a quaint little place located in downtown Berlin, in the middle of Holmes County. It gave off a simple and comforting feeling. Even though I was traveling by myself, stepping into this restaurant made me feel at home. Like it knew I was coming. These strangers sitting down to eat didn’t seem like strangers at all but close friends. The restaurant was owned and operated by the Amish, so I knew this was a good place for me to be. After all, the Amish hate smoking.
I was here to collect signatures for a state smoking ban. Pretty boring stuff, but it was work. I had no trouble asking the manager for permission to talk with some of the customers. I spent the next hour going from table to table collecting signatures. One couple sat beneath a painting of a lone oak tree masked by the twilight. The caption in the corner was Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” I mentioned how much I liked that passage, and the couple heartily agreed with me. I smiled as they signed their names, but I was still thinking about that passage. Being still is something I’ve never really been very good at doing. I quickly forgot about it though as I moved on to the next table.
After I finished talking with everyone, I wanted to leave the restaurant. As I got closer to the exit, I saw a small group that had just sat down at a table in the back. I must have missed them coming in. As much as I wanted to get going, I turned and walked back to the end of the restaurant to talk to them.
I walked up to the table and introduced myself. I explained why I was there and handed one of them the petition. The ritual. The same speech I had memorized long before and now rattled off without thinking. It was what I had to do to get what I wanted. The necessary movements that I no longer thought about, except for what it gained in the end. Almost like a prayer that is made simply out of habit before one eats or goes to bed. The people were all nice enough. Three women and one man taking some time off to see the countryside. “That’s nice,” I responded. “What county are you from?” I didn’t ask this question out of curiosity or as an attempt to continue conversation. I asked it because I needed to know which petition they should sign. “Stark County,” the woman closest to me replied. I handed her a pen and told her that I was from the same county. “I went to Perry High School.” “Oh really? Her and I are from that area too. We both went to school there a while back.” She said this while indicating her friend next to her. As she signed, I tried to think of something to say about the high school. We both had a connection to it, and I figured it might make a good talking point. It was then that I remembered the memorial.
Just a week before, my alma mater had publicly unveiled a beautiful war memorial outside its front doors. It was dedicated to the ten Perry High School alums who had died serving their country. Nine in Vietnam and one in Iraq. It had been the death of Richard Ramey in 2004 that had propelled the initial construction. I had actually missed the dedication ceremony the previous Saturday morning but had stopped by that same evening. The memorial was definitely impressive. A ten-foot tall soldier stood with a panther (the school’s symbol) behind him. The man’s hands looked strong. Veins were visible in both hands, but especially in the one which gripped the rifle. The face looked old. Almost too old. Pictures of the ten men were engraved in the base with room to spare.
I asked the small group if they had gotten a chance to see the new memorial. “Oh yes. In fact, she was on the committee that designed it.” The woman I had been talking to said this as she again pointed to the woman next to her. I suddenly realized that this woman had been completely silent up until now. She smiled at me and said, “My son was Richard Ramey.”
I didn’t know what to say. Suddenly all of my casual, habitual remarks were rendered meaningless. I knew exactly who Richard Ramey was. For one brief moment, I felt awkward. Not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to do. What could I say in reply? Nothing seemed to fit. No response could be given to the sacrifice this woman had made. I looked at her, and she just stared right back. I said nothing. Tears filled my eyes. My mouth was tight. I was silent. I was still. I gave up thinking about what to say. No words were possible. Silent but gracious gratitude would have to do. She smiled at me again. She understood. She nodded as I tried my best to smile back. Being still was all I could do.
Jason Stevens is a senior from Massillon, Ohio, majoring in Political Science