I believe in silence.
Don’t get me wrong. I love laughter, blues guitar, and the playground shouts of children. I love all those life-affirming sounds, but I believe in silence.
I was a quiet child, an observer. Friends always told me their secrets because they knew I wouldn’t tell. To this day—though I am certainly more outgoing—people still confide in me. I guess I’ve always had a tendency toward silence.
There’s comfort in silence. I love sitting quietly with an old friend; someone I know so well that we don’t even have to speak.
Silence allows for understanding. When I talk to people in front of works of art, doing my job as a museum educator, I begin with a question. Then, I shut up. If they don’t answer immediately, I’m often tempted to keep talking. But over time, I’ve learned it’s best to keep quiet. In silent viewing, the work of art reveals itself. Conversation follows, but silence comes first.
My belief in the power of silence got a boost in my late twenties, when I learned how to scuba dive. Diving is the ultimate experience of silence. There you are, face-to-face with gorgeously weird creatures, undulating schools of fish, and primordial plant life. You can marvel at all this, but you can’t say a word about it.
On one particular dive trip, I was paired with a co-worker who annoyed me, a guy I thought of as pompous and uncouth. We were swimming about twenty feet under when we entered a gently swaying kelp forest. We stopped. The sun shone down through the choppy surface, casting wiggly light blobs all around us and the orange garibaldi feeding in the kelp. Suspended together in our watery disco, my dive buddy and I looked at each other. He raised up his hands and face in a gesture of surrender. Nodding his head, his eyes smiled at me through his mask.
It was a simple gesture, but through it, he communicated more to me about himself than words ever had. In silence, I saw the side of him that recognized beauty. It struck me that perhaps there was more to him than I had realized. Back in the world of sounds and voices, we became good friends.
Silence, I believe, is a gift. When I was a child, it came naturally. Now I have to make time for it in my hectic day. In silence, I’ve found that there is actually quite a lot to hear. In my desire to be closer to God, silence has been a good place to start.
You know the old saying, “children should be seen and not heard.” It advocates silence, but the emphasis is all wrong it seems to me. I’ll teach my young son to practice silence, but not because I don’t want to hear him. Rather, so that he can learn to hear himself.
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