SAVE THE SILENCE
Kahil Gibran wrote, “A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have I found in silence that I may dispense with confidence?” I discovered many years ago I need silence like I need oxygen. It wraps me in a cloak of wellbeing. If I do not sit quietly for a short time each day I become more easily agitated – wound tight, as my husband would say. I am fortunate our home by the river provides me with the blessed calm I need.
A writer friend described an exercise in sensory deprivation designed to prepare our military for imprisonment and torture. Silence, like an icepick or cattle prod, can be so painful a prisoner gives up secrets to escape it. Our justice system uses solitary confinement as punishment. The acts, seems incongruous, when I see quiet as a saving grace. I wonder, then, how people in a Covid-19 world register the dramatic change in the level of sound in their lives.
Pre-covid, many commuted daily through the noise of rush hour traffic or hectic subways and joined dozens of other workers in a buzzing hive of productivity. Now you work from home, in solitude and silence. Or perhaps the opposite is true. Where once you had a quiet drive through a small town, the restful isolation of your corner office, now you have children squabbling and clamouring for your attention, as you put together a legal brief at your dining room table. Or children used to the noise of classrooms, now study alone, minus their classmates. Do you welcome the change or wish it away?
Where once you exercised at a gym, music pounding, barbells thumping, treadmills running endlessly, now you walk or bike alone in a park. The sounds of a busy retail store and merriment of a full restaurant are replaced with the quiet voices of take-out and online shopping. I face the noise of yelling repeatedly into a drive-thru speaker, instead of the peace of five star dining.
One of the most dramatic locations for the change in sound levels I noticed is our hospitals. I found them noisy night and day, filled with rushing steps, alarms, beeping machines, floor polishers running in the hallway, metal wash pans clanging into drawers. In contrast is the empty hush throughout the labs and ER of our local hospital as surgeries are cancelled and people avoid going for tests. In contrast we see the scenes on television of workers pushing patients through hallways narrowed by extra beds lined up along them, doctors yelling for aids, nurses responding as patients call for help. I can only imagine the hellishness of the noise level, as chaos replaces order, and the number of health care workers and patients soar.
Rod McKuen wrote: “If diesels and dump trucks and gossips were words I’d feed them like kernels of corn to the birds and then all the thumping and bumping and pounds would come out forever like pretty bird sounds.”
I embrace this image, remembering all the times I’ve visited friends and family in cities. I’m good for a few hours, then my sense of being imprisoned in an intolerable world of noise and action increases until I feel like I am jumping out of my skin. My travelling days are diminishing as my dislike of the boisterous pushing and shoving of crowds increases.
A waiting hush has fallen over the world. Those who fill the hole in their lives with people and parties experience this emptiness with the same terror of sensory deprivation. I am among the lucky ones, who will take all the silence I can get, for as McKuen says, “silence is golden and soft as a tear. The soft sound of empty is the next voice you’ll hear.”