I like to talk – so this may seem inconceivable to those that know me well, or even to anyone who has taken a seat within earshot of me: I do appreciate silence.
I used to dread silence. I think a lot of people do. It can be superbly uncomfortable. Like, for instance, when you’re in a group of people who are all talking excitedly about something and every time you finish a sentence, another person eagerly agrees with what you are saying, and picks up where you left off, then secondary conversations are spawned out of the first, and everyone is nodding and agreeing and smiling, and there’s laughter, and none of you can believe that you’re all on the same page and having this fantastic conversation.
And it all feels very fluid and natural and you’re amazed that you haven’t always known each other…. And then someone gets a little too excited and expresses an idea that is totally inappropriate and has nothing to do with what you were all just talking about….Their words just linger there, kind of hanging above all of you – all thick and filthy and hideous….Silence. I hate that. Somebody say something!
I grew up in a house where there were seven of us. There was never any silence. I mean, I truly don’t think I ever remember a time when there was silence. Because, even on the infinitesimally rare occasion that someone wasn’t talking, there was always music. And music meant that somewhere in the house, my mom was dancing.
There always seemed to be at least one baby in the house. Aside from my parents having my brothers ions apart from us, my mom ran a daycare – so there were children around every corner. Always. And when the children weren’t there, we were a home for international students from Japan, Spain, Mexico that came to Canada to study. – they were quiet. It was us!
The more people in our house, the louder we decided to speak. Add to that, my extended family, which is huge on both sides. We mostly got together every Sunday. To be a part of one of our family gatherings as an outsider, I’m sure, must’ve felt impossible. With a French and Irish background, the stories, and music and laughter (and children being born!) is unending.
And it’s never silent.
But I loved it! I wouldn’t change anything about that organized chaos of my youth. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I thought for certain that I would crumble under the weight of silence.
We went on a lot of family vacations when I was young, which meant that we took a whole lot of road trips. My favourite part of being on the road, was always late at night or in the pre-sunrise hours, when everyone was asleep except for my dad who kept the music on low as he drove. I’d lay my head in such a way that I could watch the stars in the sky remain fixed despite the fact that we were moving. I ‘d be lulled to sleep by the constant hum of our Dodge Caravan, the rising and falling of other travellers’ cars and the heartbeat-sound created by driving over evenly-spaced seams on the highway.
My least favourite part was sensing that we were pulling off the highway into a rest area. – the rhythm of the road was interrupted, the sound of the engine changed, and there would be a brief moment right after the ignition was turned off but before anyone stirred, that screamed of absolute silence. I HATED that.
The first time I ever experienced true silence, I was 20 years old. It was 1998. I had dropped out of the Broadcast-Television programme at Mohawk College, was “between jobs” and was all about just “finding myself.” So, I did what any reasonable young adult with no job and absolutely no money would do: I decided one night to hop in a big red van with two of my cousins and head West.
My cousins had lived out of this van before, and had real talent. They were musicians and they played guitar for money on the sidewalks of every small town from here to the Pacific Ocean. I, on the other hand, cannot play guitar and cannot sing, and decided that I would make bracelets to sell. What a bunch of hippies! As an aside, my cousins stayed out West and are quite successful with their music, while I didn’t last as long as I expected to, and haven’t made a bracelet since… But the journey!! It was all about the journey, wasn’t it?
We travelled through the States on the way West and I convinced them that they just HAD to stop in South Dakota. I had been there when I was eight with my own family and they just had to see the Corn Palace! And Mount Rushmore! And the Badlands! (South Dakota is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever been and highly recommend that you put it on your bucket list!)
After a stop at Mount Rushmore, we were all like, “Let’s allow the wind to take us wherever we should go mannnnnn,” and we ended up in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Within the park, there’s an area called The Wildlife Loop. It’s where they filmed parts of Dances With Wolves! The park boasts 71,000 acres of land where the buffalo still roam free and there isn’t a car or another human being in sight. It’s as close as you can get to the untouched-beginning of time that exists on this continent, and it was magnificently silent.
We spent a good amount of time there that day, wandering aimlessly, commenting about the purity of the air we were breathing, and how far we were from the rest of civilization. My cousins posed for pictures that they thought might make for a good album cover and I seared that day in my memory as the most magically-tremendous, and real moment of my entire life. Silence.
The only time I’ve come close to that kind of silence living in the city was during the Blackout of August 2003. It was nighttime and there wasn’t a car on the road, there wasn’t a hum of a fridge nor buzz of a streetlight. People came out of their houses because air conditioners didn’t work and there was nothing to do inside. I remember looking up at the sky and seeing a million stars, because there was no light to block them out. It’s easy to forget that they are always there. I was 38 weeks pregnant with Jayden and I fell asleep with my front door wide open to the sound of crickets. Silence.
I had several apartments on my own while I was going to school and I came to really appreciate the quiet. It wasn’t until I would visit my family that I realized how very loud we all were.
I’ve just recently come to experience silence again after 10 years of having at least one child with me at all times. But it’s never *truly* silent in my empty house. There’s always the sound of the refrigerator, or the furnace kicking in, and the constant hurry of cars on the Expressway nearby. Recently, we’ve added the sound of water circulating through our fish tank. But generally speaking, it’s quiet and I enjoy it when I get it.
I think it’s important to spend some time in the quiet. I always wake before my kids to enjoy a cup of tea before we get busy with our day. Some mornings it’s pretty close to silent and I notice things. Like this morning, when it was still dark, and I peeked outside my front window and it looked as though someone had dropped fistfuls of glitter all across the snow. It was lovely – but disappeared once the sun came up.
I also don’t feel a need to fill in the empty spaces of conversation with mindless chatter anymore. I’m comfortable with just sitting silently and absorbing the words that have already been spoken.
I’ve come to learn that silence is only sad when it replaces a house full of laughter. It’s only lonely when you don’t love yourself enough to sit in solitude, and it’s only frightening when negativity reigns.
Published in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge