I have a bit of an awkward relationship with silence. Living in an apartment building with neighbors on two sides, as well as below, I hear their day-to-day lives on a regular basis. I’ve lived close to airports and train tracks on multiple occasions, so the noises of transportation have become background filler. Even when I lived in a rural area, I’d have trouble sleeping at night because of the crickets and the warm summer breeze. There are auditory stimuli everywhere, and I assure you that I’m very aware of it.
During my first year at college, my high school girlfriend split up with me. For the first month or so, I never really was convinced things were over, and considering how much we still saw each other, it’s quite likely she agreed initially. The night before my nineteenth birthday, she invited me to stay the night with her. After we slept together (literally sleeping) that night, I woke up to her kicking me out of her dorm. It was at that point I truly realized our relationship was over.
That night, I found myself wandering around the lake on campus. My family had forgotten about my birthday thanks to the Ohio State-Michigan game, high school friends who had come into town that weekend were not to be found thanks to a mutual avoidance of each other between the ex and I, and the only two people who did remember my birthday both had prior commitments that night (though they did at least have dinner with me). It was in this moment, pacing around the lake in a methodical gait, that I experienced true silence for the first time.
The entire day leading up to that walk, my mind was filled with depressing thought after depressing thought. I felt alone, forgotten, and rejected, amongst other emotions crossing my mind. Yet, as soon as I started my trek around the lake, I was left in total silence. It wasn’t as if I had actively tried to stop thinking of things…for that matter, I was trying my hardest TO THINK of something…anything really. With each passing step, the silence held a heavier presence. No thoughts, no ambient sounds, no traffic. Nothing.
It was the weirdest feeling I’d experienced in my life. Imagine spending years and years in a desert where all you see is sunlight and sandstorms. Then one day, the heavens open up and it rains…marshmallows. Part of you knows it isn’t right, yet you’ve never seen or felt rain to know for sure that it’s wrong. That’s how I felt in the silence.
Silence, on the other hand, can be looked at in the context of having time to one’s self to think. This is the silence that I’m admittedly a bit more familiar with. Despite that, I’ve found that this form of silence has become a luxury in life rather than a right. With each passing day, I find that my interpersonal interactions grow significantly, be they in the form of emails, phone calls, face-to-face communication, text messages, or other ways entirely.
For an introvert such as myself, this is both a blessing and a curse. One on hand, this level of communication forces me to interact with those around me out of someone else’s necessity, rather than solely relying on my own desires. Sounds great, right? On the other hand, I find myself increasingly wanting to avoid human contact at all, particularly after a long day/week/month at work.
Part of growing older is a loss of that second form of silence. Family, children, and other adult responsibilities slowly eat away at that silence until there’s very little of it left. While I don’t anticipate ever really losing the capability to find time to myself, part of me wonders if ever there will come a time where the silence I love — that lonely, reflective type of silence — will fully overlap with the silence that comes from a complete lack of thought. The thought of it happening at all is bad enough, but what if having both forms of silence is the only way I could have either? That scares the hell out of me.
What are your opinions on silence? Is it a good or bad thing to have in your life?