Sipping the Silence
I’m reading a poem aloud to my class of high-schoolers. After the last line, silence settles over the room. For several seconds we breathe in its spell. I end the moment with a comment in a low voice, easing us back to the regular world.
Silence in a room full of seventeen-year-olds is a small miracle, and so is the bonding that happens inside that silence. For those seconds we turn inward, yet share this inwardness with the whole room. Even the usual snickerers and the young man who tries to listen to his iPod during class have entered into this sacred space. It’s March, close to the end of year, and we know each other well. Well enough to admit to being moved.
I believe in silence. The kind that expresses true accord between people or deep peace with oneself. It sneaks in after the final note of a song or the last frame of a film. It enters after a poem in class. I’ve even heard it arrive after the announcement of bad news.
I was up to me to tell my parents when my mom’s mother died. “There’s been an accident,” I started. After my words, the silence that stretched between us held three generations of love and a bridged a chasm of loss that each of us understood. Soon we were hugging and wiping tears from our cheeks. Words couldn’t help us. Only silence could say what we felt.
In a group or in class, silence is rare, so I also seek it in solitude. Silence is where I meet my deepest self. With no one to pose for and no one to impress, I am honest. My priorities realign to their proper order. A moment of quiet gives me perspective amid the noise of life. With three children and over a hundred students, between preparing a nutritious supper and nutritious lesson plans, after a day of running for groceries, gas, postage stamps, and library books, silence is not only welcome, it’s essential. Before I go to bed, I give myself a cup of silence. I reconnect with my true self. I accept the day’s mistakes and remind myself of all I am thankful for.
All day I gift wrap sentences for my students and teach them to use language well. I talk with my parents on the phone. I tuck my children into bed with warm wishes and warm words. But I find the most meaningful moments after words are gone, in the quiet after a last line of poetry, the bonding after after tragic news, the peace of my boys’ slow breathing as I linger in the doorway, the serenity of a meditative minute before I close my eyes.