Silence. Silence is defined as the complete absence of sound, but I find this a little ironic because personally, I believe that silence is one of the loudest noises we can make.
When we can’t quite find the words to say, silence speaks a language of its own. This vast absence of sound is astonishing because silence is something that is nothing, and for something that is essentially nothing, silence has the incredible capability of influencing our emotions.
Silence is something your body can sense. There really aren’t a lot of things that I am afraid of, but if we’re being brutally honest, silence is one of my biggest fears. I fear the anxiety and discomfort that is weaved into silence. So no, I don’t believe silence is just the absence of sound. The way I see it, silence is a state of mind, a language, a feeling, and most importantly, an experience.
Let’s talk about scary movies, for example. Humans are good at scaring ourselves during horror films. Sure the content of the movies are usually ghastly, bloody, and gory, but when it comes down to it, these movies get truly scary when we start creating our own fear. We wait for the monster to pop out from underneath the bed, or we wait for the killer to find the protagonist in her home because that is just what we anticipate to happen. We scare ourselves the most when the music stops, the actors stand still, and all that we are left with is…
We have the tendency to see silence as both good and bad. We like silence when we choose to call it “peace and quiet.” Oftentimes the world around us spins too fast and we hear too much and witness sights that rob a little more of our sanity each day. In that case, silence is the saline that cleanses the wounds of reality, even if it is just temporarily. We like silence because it is not a tangible object; it can’t physically harm us, it doesn’t wake us from our sleep, it doesn’t aggravate us. Silence is the reassurance of stillness; the reassurance that the sky is not falling from above. You can’t collect it, sell it, or give it away, but often times it can be squandered and dissipated. We often take something as
simple as silence for granted because we get too wrapped up in our everyday struggles and priorities. It is then that we stop appreciating it, and become partial to seeing silence as something bad.
I was fortunate that I had never been to a funeral until I was sixteen years old. The first funeral I went to was for a woman named Ruth Goepfert. I had known her as “Mrs. G,” my first swim team coach. She and her husband had founded our swim club in 1959 and I had practically grown up there. She was eighty-eight years old when she passed away in March of 2014 from complications after her open heart surgery. I had known Mrs. G well, but I wasn’t exactly close to her. I went to this funeral with one of my closest friends. She got really emotional and cried a lot, but I just stood there speechless, silent really.
Aside from the sounds of muted weeps and subtle tears, the church was nearly silent, and you could feel it. You could feel the pain and discomfort of everyone in the room. You could feel the lack of Mrs. G’s presence. I could feel a contrite burn in the back of my throat from not having the right words to say. The large, hollowed chapel smelled of old oak wood, dusty pews, and an overwhelming amount of Stetson radiating from the man standing in front of me. By the time I left that day, I had decided that I hate funerals. I also realized how much silence truly threw me out of equilibrium . Forget “peace and quiet,” silence scared the hell out of me.
Almost as if it were some kind of superstitious curse, I ended up attending three more funerals in that month alone, and with every funeral, my fear of silence grew. Did it have something to do with the fact that my fear developed at a funeral? Maybe a little, but I had experienced the piercing, burning way that silence feels through a series of other very personal events in my life.
I felt silence when my father told me he was filing for his second divorce after eleven, love-filled, years.
I heard silence when the dermatologist from the medical center called to tell me the mole that had been removed from my face, just weeks before, was cancerous.
I felt silence when one morning I woke up and fell completely, and hopelessly out of love with the man I had been with, and adored wholeheartedly, for nearly four years.
I heard silence when I got a phone call from my best friend’s mom saying that her daughter, my best friend, had been hit by a drunk driver and was being rushed to the hospital.
I didn’t know how to respond to any of these events. I didn’t know what to say, or how to act, but all I knew was that I didn’t want to feel the pain of silence anymore. My eyes burned, my throat felt rubbed raw, my chest hollowed, the blood from my face draining. I try to see silence as something good and pure, but it has become so difficult.
They say that silence is an absence of sound, but I beg to differ. Silence is a state of mind, a language, a feeling. But most importantly, silence is an experience.