In the years since I got my hearing aids, I have begun to learn to live with silence. I don’t mean not being able to hear what others are saying. That is frustrating. I mean silence. Quiet. The last time I drove to Durham by myself–an eleven hour drive–I didn’t turn on the radio because I can’t hear the radio unless it’s blaring, which then exacerbates my hearing loss. I drove in silence. I thought about things. I sang. I listened.
I am learning more in these stay-at-home days. I am the first one up at our house on pretty much any given morning. Well, Lila, our middle Schnauzer, often wakes me so she can eat, but I am the first human to get out of bed. I come downstairs, turn on the coffee pot, feed the pups, and then settle in to read and journal in silence. What I hear are the sounds of life underneath what I fill it up with. The ambient music of what is going on around me. The quiet quietens my spirit.
I have learned to love silence.
“Words are the part of silence that can be spoken,” Jeanette Winterson said. (Pádraig Ó Tuama was kind enough to quote her.) The quote made me think of something Frederick Buechner said, which I cannot find tonight, about the day being sandwiched between two nights, implying that the darkness was the real beginning. And it was.
The beginning–the base–is silence and darkness. We have added so much light, noise, and activity to life that a we have come to think of silence and darkness as breaks in the action, but they are our most natural, most basic states of being. They are where we can hear and see what is really going on. Like Annie Dillard said, “If you want to see the stars, you have to go sit in the dark.”
I am learning that the same is true in the universe of my body. I am finding a new resonance with silence. No music. No television. Just open sonic space. Solitude. It’s a new story for me as an extrovert. I have written before about talking to my spiritual director about my hearing loss and her asking me, “How will you listen when you can no longer hear?”
I am beginning to understand the question.
Silence is not absence or void, anymore than darkness is dangerous or foreboding. Both are rich and full. Pregnant. I am not troubled by darkness as much as they grey that haunts the daytime like it does in our New England winters and springs. It is an endless waiting room, an excruciating not yet, a haze that is heavy and starless. It feels link an un-becoming: a day that is never quite born, or that I am never quite born into.
Nighttime–darkness–is a comfort. An expanse. A promise. The darkness is an invitation to see what all the light in the world cannot show. Our days are filled with the details of our small and significant lives and then comes the night when we are all reminded of the expanse that holds us–of all the light we cannot see. No. It’s not the light. It is all we cannot see, cannot imagine, the overwhelming creative context of our little lives.
And so it is with silence, I am learning to hear.
In these days of seclusion, it is an open field. An invitation to do something other than fill in the space. When I first learned the story of Elijah the prophet, I remember reading of his depression and his hiding away in a cave. When God came to call him back into life, Elijah asked for some sign of God’s presence. All manner of hell broke loose and God was in none of it. Then, as the story was translated, Elijah heard God in a “still, small voice.” As poetic as that is, it is not a good translation. The Hebrew word means silence. Elijah found God in the silence.
I am making a similar discovery. I am finding me in new ways, as well.
Of course, I’ll let Paul and Artie sing us out.