"I cherish the memory of the time I spent on a silent retreat at an ashram, gazing at a group of people scattered across a grassy hillside like roosting birds — all of them concentrated on doing nothing but being still and listening to the natural world. But the people who go to ashrams, vipassana centers, and all the rich variants of silent-meditation retreats are, for the most part, reasonably well off. Like me, they had the money, the time, or simply the social context that enabled them to wake up one day and say to themselves, 'You know what? I'm going on a silent retreat.' I'm worried about all the people who, for one reason or another, lack the resources to discover what silence can bring.

"We must encourage the kinds of urban-design projects that nurture appreciation of silence. We need more pocket parks. And bigger parks when the money can be found. But the quiet spaces we make shouldn't be limited to the outdoors. Why can't we show a little carnival bravado when it comes to creating silence? Why not take some of the money seized from drug dealers, gun runners, and financial crooks and use those funds to buy up a few dozen fast-food franchises that can be turned into contemporary quiet houses? Not recreation centers or computer labs. Places open late and early, filled with blank paper and pens, furnished with a few chairs and tables, pillows, plants — with no personal sound devices, cell phones, or conversation. Sort of like secularized Christian Science reading rooms. I'm sure they would be used and maybe in some cases become places not just of escape but of growth. How much could it cost to try?

"Or, for starters, what about taking one evening a week in recreation centers and officially designating them quiet times? Or what about getting a coalition of philanthropists to purchase empty lots and have students build Zen gardens inside them? Or what about starting a foundation that gives scholarships to young people who write essays or create artworks that promote the place of silence and contemplation? What about hosting not just Quiet Parties but quiet walks through our neighborhoods, adventures in silence after dark, and quiet festivals of silent arts? Let's hold a moment of silence in memory of silence! We have to find some means of giving more young people the opportunity of experientially learning why quiet is distinguished, or there will be no distinction between noise and signal left."