jason boyett one eye squinted

“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.

+ + +

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

According to other reviews of this tour, they’ve made the same request—at the same point in the concert—at multiple venues. So maybe it’s kind of a shtick. But it’s an effective one.

I think of The Lumineers a lot when too many things are happening.

+ + +

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.

+ + +

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 unplug.

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.

17 comments

  1. This is so good! I think we know too much about everything in this day and age. I want to help where I can, but I can’t be everywhere, and I find that sometimes I can’t help even where I am because I am so overwhelmed by it all. I love your opening line — I too have an unquiet mind. I crave peace and quiet now in a way I never have before. My devotional reading recently suggested this: Keep the Sabbath holy. Rest one day a week this year—don’t answer the phone or the door, and don’t use the internet. Do something that brings you life that day. And I’ll be honest, I’m a little afraid of it. Which probably means I need to try it.

    Blessings.

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  2. Thank you. I needed this right now: Husband yelling at adult child and she crying almost belligerently back. Me? in the middle. It took us 14 months to get her out of debt and now within two weeks she is so out of control we don’t know what to do. I just sit here silently praying. It is out of my hands. Stop. Breathe. Trust. Storms will come but I know the Peace Keeper in the Storm. He whispers in my ear, “Trust Me. I know what I’m doing.” I’m thankful for the move to stop, be still and listen.

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  3. Yes.

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  4. I’ve found myself needing to step away more, to take a breath and just “be”. It does the soul good, I think.

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  5. Don

    This is so cool. I just ran into Longmire a few days ago and loved the bits and pieces I saw. (I am an uncontrolled channel surfer. And does that maybe say something about my need to “unplug”?) It is one of the poles of my being; one, to disengage, to move to a quiet beach someplace warm (I’m a Canadian and tired of long winters); the other, to be present in the now and to live fully, to engage the struggle for meaningful life. Love this. Thank you.

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  6. Addie

    Love this.

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  7. So, this one is going on the Tivo list. Thanks for that. And thanks for the general, overall sanity of this piece. I am delighted to read that you’re finding this theme throughout the culture because we SO need it. I know I do – and I’ve taken about three weeks away from my blog just to reboot a bit. Probably need a completely tech-free day each week, but I’m not quite there yet. . . thanks for the encouragement to move in that direction.

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  8. Oh. Yes.
    This resonates.
    Slow. Ease my unquiet mind.
    For me…finding form and shape in liturgy as my mind swirls and spins with too many actions and nonactions.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Antoinette

    I love this post. Thank you.

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  10. Hi Jason – appreciate the link to the Lumineers review; even if the whole “turn off the phone and just be with us” routine is schtick, I agree that it works. And I love the Josh Ritter story.

    Hard to unplug. But does us a world of good. Great post.

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  11. I have the constant desire to unplug and spend time with people in the physical space – but I’m so alone where I am, the people I talk to on here are the ones that I can connect to best. It’s a hard line.

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    • I totally understand this, Amber. Many of my best friends are of the online variety, so unplugging in that regard does have a complicated result.

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  12. Followed the Prodigalsam link….ugh. yeah. lazy.

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  13. Sara

    All the other girls here are stars, you are the northern lights… JR is just flipping fantastic!

    Reply

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