When asked what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday or Father’s Day, my late father invariably and disinterestedly retorted, “Peace and quiet”.  It was his stock insipid answer. He was besides notorious for abhorring store-bought gifts (a predilection which meshed conveniently with the homemade cards of his beloved grandchildren). Whenever the occasion for gift-giving presented itself I would routinely repeat the rhetoric of asking my father what he wanted, fashioning it an inside joke worth reliving though he characteristically never betrayed any amusement (yet another instance of when my sorry humour was completely lost on him). The repetition at least succeeded to prove he had ascended to a higher reality.  I may have even thought that he was too unimaginative to think of anything else; or, more insidiously, that by declining anything for himself he would escape a similar obligation to others. For the most part however I attributed his monotony to advanced age as though the amortization of his existence had forced the default meditative contemplation. But given that he lived to be almost 96 years of age and that he had had the same refrain for as long as I can remember, it is more probable that his response was both reasoned and intentional.

On reflection (a pastime children are remarkably wont to do after their parents are gone) there is something to be said about a life of serenity and I grant that my father was onto a good thing.  It might easily qualify as a far greater luxury than a lawnmower for example. It may be a purely theoretical aspiration. Without meaning to be blasphemous, it may be right up there with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Whatever it is, it is certainly beyond the power of commercial acquisition.  Coincidentally it turns out to be an advantage to which I have been warming for years.

Traditionally one doesn’t have a yearning for a life of serenity except as a temporary reprieve from the chaos of living.  Unqualified commitment to peace and quiet during our younger years is more calculated to anaesthetize one’s life than to enhance it.  But when the time eventually comes to confess satisfaction with the treasures and toys of the universe, the goal is metaphysical.

Speaking for myself peace and quiet is a welcome resort.  I’m not convinced I have the wherewithal to handle the things I previously did and certainly not with the same strength and enthusiasm.  Rather than test the speculation I am prepared to relinquish the challenge.  Serenity is however a prize not easily won and if it qualifies as a gift it is one which is beyond the capacity of any human being to bestow.  Likely it is an intangible benefit of nature, life’s reward for having endured its distraction.  Nonetheless it is not for everyone:

The older I get, the more I want to do. It beats death, decay or golf in unfortunate trousers. Peace and quiet depress me.”

Simon Schama