We live in an era of perpetual sound and noise. It is all around us. Difficult to escape. Whether you live in the heart of a booming metropolis or out in the far reaches of the wilderness, sound is always making itself known. However, there are times in one’s life when the absence of noise, the lack of words or sound of what’s common, usual, or expected – that can be monumental, deafening, and statement-making.
WordPress has a weekly writing challenge, and this week they’ve asked bloggers to ponder the concept of silence (read more here). Seeing as though I am someone who occasionally likes to sit quietly, meditate, and be alone, I have an appreciation of silence. However, I also have a deep fear of it, so I can see both sides. I am so ready to take on this challenge as someone who struggles with this one time luxury, one time curse.
I can easily think of three examples where silence has been relevant and present.
1. An instance of silence as pure joy. The other day is a great example. I celebrated my 40th birthday, and my best friend said she had a day of surprises scheduled for me. She picked me up that morning and allowed me to be simply a passenger – someone simply along for the ride as she guided me through what she knew to be my most perfect day of events. She even played my favorite music in the car in the morning. After a long day of what seemed to be almost too many good things – too many treats for one person, I sat back in the front seat of her car more relaxed and happy than I had felt in a very long time. I didn’t realize how much I had needed that day. A day of simple joys, of being a passenger. And at the end of it all, of just silence. We did not need to recap or laugh or talk about the rest of the upcoming week or have any other trite conversation (or more profound, as we are prone to do). We are close enough to be comfortable in our silence, and I cherish that about our friendship. It made the end of our day together so joyful.
2. An instance of silence as genius. I went to college in NYC. I was an art history major, and I had one professor who I really idolized, although she was a slave-driver and pushed her students incredibly hard. She had us write a thesis and I was really struggling with it. I had no focus. I didn’t know which artist to write about, which work to settle on, I was a mess. I wanted it to be perfect for her because I wanted – oh lawd, who the heck knows what I wanted – I was just being a big perfectionist spaz as usual. So time was wasting and as I had been known to do, I let it go down to the wire. But I knew what needed to be done, and I went to the Museum of Modern Art. I sat there for hours and hours in silence. No headphones, no conversation with a friend or stranger. I tuned out the visitors around me, milling around, looking at the works of Cezanne, Avedon, Pollack. And in my silence, it hit me. My silence helped me to figure it all out, to select the artist, work and concept, and essentially write my paper in my head. It was a “genius” moment. Haven’t we all had moments like these? Going from stoopified to feeling brilliant, fingers unable to move quickly enough, the thoughts are flowing so freely? I owe that one to vigilant silence.
3. An instance of silence as pure relief. Last fall, I ended up in the emergency room unexpectedly. I was alone, exhausted, and all I wanted to do was get home and crawl into the warm, cozy safety of my own bed. I was laying on a gurney with a thin white blanket over me, trying to rest, and when I opened my eyes, my boyfriend was there. He had been away on business all week and I really wasn’t expecting to see his face, but when I did, an incredible feeling of relief washed over my entire body. Kind of like when you are a kid and you fall and skin your knee and you don’t really start crying hard until you see the look on someone ELSE’s face recognizing that it was a bad tumble, and mom is there to make everything better. That look: that all-knowing look that two people can share without words, simply in pure silence, but rather with the reassurance of a tender smile and warm hand – that is such powerful silence that cannot be replaced. No ER nurse could provide that feeling in his absence, and never before have I been so thankful for the gift of silence that night.
So these days, in this era high technology, of sitting across from people we know, rather than using spoken words we choose to silently move our fingers swiftly across screens and keyboards to communicate. For some, this is powerful. This is courage where they never once had it. And for others, it’s an artform lost. But regardless, silence is powerful. It is inspiring, it is scary, it can leave one wondering, questioning, and feeling. But I find it amazing for all of these reasons.
I just took this picture yesterday alone, at sunset, in creative silence. I hope you enjoy it.