S is for Silence

| March 3, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about silence lately; it’s not something you tend to encounter organically in New York. I ran across the quote from Audre Lorde (above) about a year ago, and was struck by the significance it held for me, a generally quiet person. In moments of adversity or distress, I tend to retreat into silence rather than put forth an argument. Looking at the text now, it reminds me of the significance that silence holds, in so much as it signifies “neutrality”, neither for nor against. I agree with Lorde when she states that it “will not protect you”, and further in moments of injustice your silence may actually harm others. Desmond Tutu wrote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Aside from silence as a verb, we can also see it as an adjective, a physical characteristic of a moment in time.

I find silence in little moments:

In my apartment between the sirens outside the window and the music on the stereo,
That moment after the train leaves the platform,
The half a second you catch yourself within a revolving glass door.

All these moments pass by instantaneously and generally go unnoticed, but if we take the time to notice them, we can analyze our physiological response to silence. For some people it could be unsettling, such as in schools. Silence in the classroom tends to be regarded as uncomfortable, not something desirable. The classic “wait time” for teachers (ideally about six seconds), seemingly lasts hours. Students shift in their seats, shifting their eyes, waiting for another voice to fill the void.

For other people, silence is synonymous with peace. Life’s entirety seems to be overrun with external noises and distractions, but silence comes as a welcomed break. The noise they are attempting to evade can be both literal noise and metaphorical noise, that is the “noise” of the mind. People talk about “silencing the mind” in circles of relaxation and meditation, and what they mean is quieting the constant dialogue that occurs within the anxious mind. A common occurrence of this “noisy mind” is when one is attempting to fall asleep. If you’ve ever experienced insomnia, you have experienced the tolls of an unrestful mind.

Admittedly, one of my favorite songs is Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, and I couldn’t write a post about silence without sharing at least a few of their lyrics:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Sounds of Silence (click to listen)