“You don’t say much, but you have an unquiet mind.”
The words are spoken by a serial killer to sheriff Walt Longmire to start the second season of Longmire. They’re absolutely true. This A&E crime drama, set in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, and based on Craig Johnson’s series of mystery novels, is unlike any other on television.
Why? Because it’s slow. It’s quiet.
The title character, played by Robert Taylor, rarely speaks. When he does open his mouth, it’s in efficient, ineloquent bursts. He doesn’t carry a cell phone. He drives a beat-up truck. He wears boots and a hat and admits he’s out of step with modern crime-fighting or, well, anything else using “modern” as a descriptor.
At a crime scene in last summer’s pilot episode, a new deputy (played by the feisty Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame) asks Longmire what he’s doing as her boss pokes around a crime scene. “Thinkin’,” Longmire replies. “I do that sometimes before I talk.”
The “unquietness” of his mind has to do with his wife’s death, with dark secrets in his past, and with the remarkable number of murders that require his attention in rural Wyoming (seriously, people: stay away from the Wyoming badlands, where someone dies every week). Longmire’s stoic nature isn’t because he has nothing to say, but because he chooses not to add to the noise. The show’s pace follows his lead. It’s as lingering, methodical, and hushed as a western landscape.
I think of Longmire a lot when too many things are happening.
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In late April, my wife and I attended a Lumineers concert in the Dallas area. It was an amazing show—simple, stripped-down, and a prime example of the new-folk renaissance taking place in the music world. Here were passionate musicians playing retro instruments (cello, accordion, mandolin, upright piano, glockenspiel) and having an amazing time without Auto-Tune or fog machines.
About four songs into their set, they hit the first hos and heys and acoustic strums of their big hit, “Ho Hey.” Predictably, a deluge of blue-lit cell phone screens popped up to tweet and photograph and record the moment.
The Lumineers stopped the song. Like, totally, stopped playing.
“Do me a favor and put away your cellphones and recording devices,” lead singer Wesley Schultz said. “We want you to just be present with us and experience this moment.”
And then most of the phones went black, and The Lumineers started the song over:
I’ve been trying to do it right / I’ve been living a lonely life
I think of The Lumineers a lot when too many things are happening.
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Another folksy Americana musician, the singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, has also been known to interrupt his concert set (typically in the middle of his young-love song “Kathleen”) to ask something from his audience members. In a brief intermission, he stops the show to invite his fans to slow dance with each other while his Royal City Band plays “sexy music.”
“Put your arms out Frankensteinishly towards someone—anyone,” he says in this clip from a 2012 Nashville show at the Mercy Lounge.
“It strikes me…that we could have the largest, sort of amoeba-like slow dance,” he says in a 2011 St. Louis performance. “This is not optional.”
“Just grab someone. You know how this works,” he tells a New York City audience in February 2011.
During these moments, it never fails that the audience members find each other—strangers partner up—and slow-dance together like awkward middle-schoolers in a sweet interlude of humanity and intimacy.
No cell phones. No conversation. No lyrics.
I think of Josh Ritter a lot when too many things are happening.
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It’s been a disheartening couple of weeks. On May 20, five hours away from where we live in the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma City was hit with a series of tornadoes, killing 23 people in and around Moore, Oklahoma. A week later, another powerful storm hit Amarillo with tornado warnings and golf ball-sized hail. Despite damage to our house and my car, we were fine, having spent the evening huddled in my brother’s basement.
A few days after that, on May 31, another tornado outbreak hit central Oklahoma, killing ten. The death toll included Tim Samaras and Carl Young—scientists and field researchers who had prominent roles on the Discovery Channel series “Storm Chasers,” a show I was passionate about during its 2007-2012 run.
Meanwhile, an online friend had a much-anticipated adoption fall through at the last minute. Other close friends ended up in a social media scrape with another member of our online family, and relationships got messed up. A campus minister I enjoy on Twitter, @prodigalsam, has been accused of plagiarism and joke-stealing, and the evidence is damning. Combine that with all the other stuff that typically happens in the religious blog world—Bible fights, theology disputes, people who are supposed to be kind calling each other names—and it becomes too much. There have been times when I relished this back-and-forth exchange of ideas. I got involved. I spouted my opinion. I took sides and linked up and stepped into the sound and fury.
But more than ever, when it feels like too many things are happening, I find myself just wanting to step away, to do myself a favor.
To ease my unquiet mind.
To do something slow.
To think before I add to the noise.
To put away my phone and be present.
To put my arms out Frankensteinishly and hold someone close.
Sometimes, for me—in the wise words of Josh Ritter—this is not optional.