My great-aunt once said to me,” Keep the tv on low when you live alone. It helps break the silence.” That was over forty years ago and I can still bring to mind her home, her voice in one encapsulated moment of time.
She was right, of course. The drone of a television or a radio in the background is somehow soothing, filling the space that sometimes becomes a vast limbo in which to drift and lose self-focus. She was wrong too. I often find myself experiencing hours of silence because nothing, music nor speech, is enough.
In the last years of our marriage, silence filled the house more and more. My husband would play the ‘music is better than not talking’ card and turn on a radio station playing the same 80’s hits over and over. His choice, not mine. I wanted classical, folk, Americana. He never asked. I opted for silence.
That silence was so vast, filling all the cracks in our shredded relationship and the sorrow in my heart. It numbed me as I retreated further and further into my cave. When I finally left, I had to reawaken the echoes of who I was through the silence.
It’s a curious fact that my inner world is rarely completely silent. I have tinnitus; self-diagnosed because for years, I never knew it had a name. The constant ringing in my ears plays counter-point to restfulness but I learned long ago to ignore it.
Some years ago I attended a silent retreat. We were allowed to chat at mealtimes but softly and always giving thanks with m a quiet Gaelic phrase of gratitude as we set the table, laid out the meal. I often longed for the silence to continue during meals or at least for conversation to remain focused on the monastic qualities some of us dropped so eagerly. We learned prayer and songs, so it was not entirely silent but the words were intended to replenish the soul, to nourish the spirit and give guidance to hungry minds. It reminded me of the Quaker way and I find some heart-support in their method of allowing the soul to speak.
Silence is often a friend to me. I adore the deadened quiet of a snow-covered town. Waking up to that most particular silence, I inwardly smile and rush to see the white transformation. Most recently, the snow fell so deep and so long that all traffic halted. For a while I could not place the extra quality its silence held, then I realised – the trains had stopped. Outside, all was still.
I love the silence of the hills, when you walk into the heights where the only sound is that of sheep, skylarks, the wind and an occasional intrusive jet. The silence of the hills and forest has a rich, deep quality. It moves, surges with life hidden from view, pulses with vibrant, wise strength. It holds you close, if you know how to listen. Go sit with the stones, feel their roots beneath you.