I’m not afraid of silence. Some people are, and so they fill the world with superfluous sounds. They look upon silence as an absence, a void. But that’s not what silence is. It is not emptiness.
He told me that he felt badly for the elderly couple sitting a few tables down. They were eating without conversation. “They’ve run out of things to say to each other.” Their silence made him sad.
But I thought it was kind of beautiful, the way comfort made room for quiet. I have felt this a few times in my life. I have sat with so much love and understanding between us that words have been unnecessary. Not everything needs to be said.
Some days I feel stuck in repetition. I have spoken these words before. I will say them all again, over and over, for the rest of my life. If I were to lose my speech, I would need only a few signs to present in place of my voice – Hello. Please. Thank you. Ha ha ha. Sorry. I love you. Goodbye. Even those you’d be able to read on my face.
Or maybe not. Silence has often been misunderstood. It can look like anger, or like sadness, or like disinterest. And sometimes it is. But more often it is only just silence. It is a sign that says ‘Do not disturb.’ I am resting. Or more likely, working.
I like to be able to follow a thought all the way through to its end. It is not an easy task. All around us life offers its distractions. It is difficult to catch an idea. It is almost impossible to hold onto it long enough to have it become anything more than noise. The world is filled with the sounds of letting go.
It’s not that I dislike this. I wouldn’t want to never speak. I wouldn’t want to stop hearing others speak. I like the sounds of voices. I like words. I know that they are necessary, and so I choose mine carefully. I am selective about what I release out into the world. I understand timing, and phrasing, and that nothing gets spoken without being heard. I understand that voices are powerful.
And I understand that silence is too. Some people are afraid of it, which makes it an effective tool. It can be used for emphasis and reflection and sometimes a weapon. It can force people to reach inside their own noisy heads and follow a thought to its end. Not everyone likes this. It can make people squirm. It can tell them things they’d rather not hear. It can say more than words.
It can say what words cannot. It can express intimacy so deep that speech becomes superfluous. It can portray a love so close that voices become obsolete. That silence is not emptiness. It is filled with the ineffable. Some words are only placeholders for things too divine to explain.
When we run out of things to say to each other, I don’t want you to misunderstand. It is not a reason to grieve. It is that on the table before us sit the signs ‘Thank you” and “I love you” and there is no more that needs to be said.
For years I could sit across from you, the silence of our understanding between us, just listening to you breathe.