15 months ago, my brother handed me a book while we stood in an alcove of the greatest little bookshop in Seattle. I believe his only words to me were, “You have to read this,” and so I read the prologue. I thought it was odd but poetic to break silence into three separate, nearly tangible objects. I let the prologue slip from my mind, and went on to enjoy the rest of the book and its companion.
Over the last six months, silence has come to play a huge role in my life. It started on my birthday last summer, when I sat on a rock at the edge of English Bay and listened to the silence of a breathtaking sunset. It was a peaceful silence, a willful meditation. I let my spirit and the silence become one, and for a time, I was whole. For that moment, I was alone, the only person in the world.
Continuing my study of silence, in late July of last year, I started watching the sky when I was a passenger on sunset drives. There’s something about the way the sunset looks against the clouds that draws me in, awakens my imagination. The face of clouds look dark against the brilliant orange and red and fading blue. The varying blues and oranges look serene, with these dark islands floating in their midst. What I see stops being the sky, and instead becomes a peaceful ocean, free of waves, an echo of that sunset on English Bay. With enough disconnect and willpower, I can imagine I am on a beach, and this silent beauty is mine forever.
The silence here is a different kind from what I experienced on my birthday. The sunset drives were silent because I was lonely. I was trapped in my head, unable, maybe unwilling, to be fully present with the person in the driver’s seat. The vision of the ocean drew me away from that loneliness and helped me feel whole again. Somehow, by sinking into my imagination, I was drawn out of my thoughts and back into the world.
That silence was inevitably followed by the fractured silences of two lovers with nothing left to say. The silence of being alone in the tiny apartment while he was at work. The silence of asking a question to get a one word answer and nothing more. The silence of staring at the ceiling, waiting for the morning alarm to go off. The silence of reaching out a hand to be held, only to have him turn away.
The silence from those moments moved into me. I convinced myself that it was the same silence from the sunset, that it was the same silence that made me whole. I allowed myself to bond with the fractured silences. I internalized their empty sounds. These silences became stronger once he moved away. We quickly added another silence to the list, one we had been very familiar with in the past.
There is a profound silence created by not listening. It’s the kind of silence that fills in the rest of the spaces, envelopes the offender in sheer loneliness. We were very good at not listening to each other. Soon, the silence of not listening turned into the silence of not reaching out for conversation. It became the silence of absent text messages and video chats. It became the silence of too many thoughts, too much internal dialogue, and no one to share it with.
There are many, many kinds of silences. I am devoted to examining them in my journals at the moment, because there is a uniqueness to each silence that you cannot understand unless you experience it.
I’ve shared a hint, just a hint of my silences with you today. One question keeps begging my attention because I’ve stepped back and looked at my journey from being alone in the first silence, to being lonely through the rest. Friends, can you possibly tell me what turns silence from being something enjoyed when alone, but suffered when lonely?