Silence can be thought of as a haven or a prison. But when silence happens in our otherwise noisy world, it can be powerful. I believe in the power of a shared and collective silence.
As a journalist, the industry warns against ruining the silence in an interview with overzealous questioning. Eventually the source will fill it, usually with something valuable to the story, “they” say.
In the real world, silences are typically awkward between two people. It’s the butt of jokes in first-date horror stories. Growing up I used to hate silence. I would lie awake in my bed at home alone at night while my mother was working. I’d fill the midnight air with music… anything to not feel the envelope of loneliness closing in on me.
It wasn’t until I became a writer that I truly learned why silence should and can be precious. I was on assignment writing about a precise radiation treatment used on cancer patients. Staff introduced me to a 70-year-old man battling prostate cancer who was nearly done with treatment. For 30 minutes he talked about his faith in God and how normal he felt considering the circumstances.
Then in passing he mentioned the recent death of his son. Suddenly this man who had me convinced he was strolling through a potentially devastating time, crumbled. He held his face in his hands, doubled over in the sterile medical office chair and shed a few silent tears.
The clicks of the photographer’s camera stopped, my pen scratching stopped and nothing was audible for what felt like forever but probably lasted only 10 seconds. We sat together, virtual strangers, sharing in this man’s private anguish. The silence was not filled with words, but with a palpable emotion. You could almost physically feel his sorrow. In that silence we were just a handful of people, put together in a room by happenstance and sharing in the human experience called life. What happens in the silence can be unexpected.
I’m a features writer. It’s my job to relay emotions in print everyday. I’ve been known to shed a few tears with my sources. But this man taught me to value that silence. In my job and in glimpses throughout my otherwise hectic days.
There are choice and chance moments of silence. During the designated prayer time at government meetings, with no God to pray to, I’ve learned to listen to the sound of my own breathing. No typing, no mental notes of the rest of the day, no phone calls, no talking. I’ve learned to sleep in silence now, comforted by the near silent breathing of my husband lying next to me in bed.
I believe in sharing in a silence with another, even if one or both of you are shedding a few tears. Use the silence to take a deep breath, calm your soul or comfort another. What breaks the silence- nervous laughter, tears, words of understanding or even passing gas- becomes all that more important. Live in that emotion and be present.