Listen; can you hear it? It is the sound of silence – the silence of the season.

It all seems to begin around Thanksgiving – sometimes earlier – the flurry of activity associated with holiday cheer. We take credit card in hand and descend upon shopping malls with a vengeance, fully prepared to fight with fellow shoppers, stressing ourselves to the limit in search of the perfect gift, one we cannot afford that will most probably be exchanged. And don’t forget the last-minute cleaning, cooking, gift wrapping, party giving – all done in feverish pursuit of the Christmas Spirit.

When did my holidays became so noisy, so filled with glitz and glitter? Possibly, it was during the period of my life when self-absorption possessed me. Perhaps I had lost that quiet, reflective spirit of the holidays because I had lost so many loved ones who had once been a part of those special times. Maybe I was even a little miffed at God for choosing to take those closest to me, the ones I thought should have been allowed to remain longer. For whatever reason, that elusive silence of the Currier & Ives Christmases of my youth had been swallowed up in today’s high-tech lifestyle.

“Oh, this is a perfect way to enjoy a quiet, relaxing holiday!” My husband groused cynically as we shouldered our way through the elephantine crowd of holiday travelers.

True, an airport – especially a large one – is not the ideal place to be on December 22nd, but I had such high hopes for this trip. “Now, we’ve always wanted to go, and I just know this Christmas is going to be one . . .” My intended placations were suddenly interrupted by the new wave of bodies that surged behind us, carrying us forward on its crest, finally depositing us at our destination – the gate marked ‘Mexico City.’

“Of course, we are going to one of the largest cities in the world,” I began to echo my husband’s pessimism as the prospect of yet another bustling commercial holiday loomed. Was the silence of Christmas that I yearned for to be only a remnant of simpler times, lost to me forever?

Two days later found us overwhelmed – not by the enormousness of the smog-shrouded city – but by the mystique of past civilizations, the architectural wonders and the beauty of the people of Mexico City. Once again, we found ourselves immersed in a crowd of people, an estimated 5,000 filling the square and chapel of the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

We caught sight of the woman soon after entering the chapel. In fact, we almost tripped over her, tiny as she was and so far below our line of vision. Her fluid motion captivated us, and we watched in silent awe her slow progress down the long chapel aisle, her knees pressing the hard stone floor. I thought how painful her movements must be. However, one look at her glowing countenance, her shining eyes told me she felt no pain; nor did she fear being crushed by the pressing crowd – she was oblivious to them, to anything that might deter her from her journey of faith and love.

As I studied her further, imagination took me by the hand and led me to conjure up a lifetime of hardship, work and worry that had chiseled the lines of age into her face . . . How old was she? How many children had she borne and nurtured? How many times had tragedy deflated her?

She floated past me, inching her way ever closer to her destination of the altar, her hands folded reverently and a smile of serenity tilting the corners of her mouth. All too soon she left me and melted into the throng. I realized what I was feeling was not sadness or pity, but envy! Our life paths, while following vastly different courses, had crossed for a few precious moments in time, allowing me insight into what had been blurred but now was crystal clear. The peace, the silence of the season, she carried with her, in her heart.

My husband and I left the Basilica and continued our walking tour, talking little, making no reference to sore feet or aching backs. That night was Christmas Eve, and we looked forward to dinner at one of the elegant dining establishments in the Zona Rosa. Restaurant after restaurant, however, greeting us with closed signs. On our way back to the hotel on nearly deserted streets, we asked the taxi driver why everything was closed so early on Christmas Eve. He seemed surprised by our question. “Everyone is home,” he said, “spending Christmas with family.”

Our dinner in the hotel dining room was spent in quiet kinship with other guests. Later when we turned on our television for the nightly news, an American station greeted us with a chaotic scene from an east coast shopping mall. “When will the stores close this Christmas Eve?” shouted the reporter above the noise, “when the last cash register rings!” I smiled. Only a few days ago such cynicism would have embedded itself into my already jaded outlook of the season. Happily, now I tossed it aside and replaced it with the memory of a face I would never see again but would never forget.

Days later we left Mexico City, vowing to return. The trip back was every bit as tiring and hectic as our arrival, but somehow, it no longer rankled us. Ironically, in one of the largest, busiest, most densely populated and polluted cities in the world, I had found what had evaded me for so long – peace, contentment, and silence – the silence of the season.