For some time I have wondered how Trappists get the dishes done. The problem is not with the washing and drying, but with the silence. I have been washing up after supper for over 30 years, first as a mandatory duty assigned by parents, and then as a minor contribution to the domestic management of my own establishment. On the whole, the task has proven congenial, but mostly for extrinsic reasons. The ordering pause at the end of the confusing working day is refreshing. Intruding hubbub is at a minimum, since others usually flee the scene once the job begins.

But most important, the brief stand in front of the sink has been a propitious occasion to catch up on the outside world via the radio. Years ago it was news from Lowell Thomas and Bob “On the Line” Considine, entertainment in a period of naïveté from Amos and Andy, and, if the atmospherics were right, Harry Caray doing the Cardinals from St. Louis on KMOX. In recent years it has been what passes for information about the world on Chicago’s “news” stations; Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms on WFMT; and with some regularity, Harry Caray doing the Cubs on WGN. So deeply ingrained have certain reflexes become that it now is almost impossible to turn on the faucet without first flicking on the radio.

My dish-washing rituals, as well as the invasion of my neighborhood by the Walkman and its clones, have turned my thoughts to what I perceive as the unimaginable self-discipline of the Trappists. My habits, and those of others, have raised all of a sudden the question of silence.

At first I was merely bemused as the joggers streaming by our house began to affect efficient little headsets with the tape players hidden somewhere in their underwear. Surely there could be nothing wrong ...

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