Is this a possibility in today’s culture of noise? Can one truly experience a moment of silence? With social media/networking, “regular” media sources, sports, news, advertisements, movies, music, freeways, phones, and even those blasted chirping birds (just kidding, don’t call the ASPCA), is there such a thing as silence? Even the simple act of reading as a relaxation method fills our minds with particular noise. I’ve been asked, “What is the most silence you’ve experienced?” I had to venture in to the vault on this one. There were only a couple of times that I can remember when I can say I truly sat in silence.
I was in the 6th grade and my family traveled to Israel with our church. On the back end of the trip, we spent some time in Rome, Italy. We were given the opportunity to walk down in to the catacombs. For a time, the only sound I could hear was my own heartbeat. No traffic, voices, animals, wind, or anything but the sound of putting one foot in front of the other. I can even remembering holding my breath (I don’t know why, i was in the 6th grade). So what did this silence sound like? Refuge, sacrifice, faith, death, and ultimate peace. There is no other way to describe that moment in the Roman Catacombs when you’re standing next to the sleeping bones of Ancient Christians.
My other experience in silence came at two different locations that shared a common purpose. On the same trip to Israel, and in my travels to Washington D.C., walking the halls and corridors of each respective Holocaust Museum. At Yad Vashem in Israel, there is a Children’s memorial where a few lights are reflected to represent the roughly 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. To what I can recall, the names of the children were being read aloud, but I don’t remember any sound whatsoever. All I heard was the deafening silence of the candle light. In that silence, I heard crying, weeping, screaming, pain, and suffering. The other moment of silence came at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. There I heard the same sounds of screaming and crying in the hall of shoes. Thousands of shoes, each telling their story of detachment from freedom. And finally, the screaming, crying, pain, and death turned to peace in the Hall of Remembrance. Placed near a flame that burns eternally in remembrance of the 6 million murdered reads the following,
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.”
Taken from Deuteronomy 4:9 as a charge to all of us to never forget the things that happen or have happened in the past that we can effectively make sure do not happen again. I found myself sitting in complete silence as the only person in the room at the time staring at the verse on the wall and in to the eternal flame. I found myself getting lost in the silence of the atrocities of the past. Not a moment went by that I did not hear another sound until the silence was broken by the voice of one who lived through the horror of the Nazi Holocaust.
I remember a specific time when the students at school were challenged to sit in absolute silence. The experiment lasted for roughly 30 seconds. The deafening sound of silence became too uncomfortable to some that they had to blurt out. They couldn’t handle the quiet. A 30 second challenge proved that too many today completely rely upon noise to function “properly” in society. Some would say this is wrong. Others say it’s a healthy form of “staying connected” in our socially networked world. A close friend of mine wrote a great article about this very thing (The Myth of the Disconnected Life was published in February of 2012 in The Atlantic).
What I’ve come to find out in my life is that there are distinct differences in how people view silence, and ultimately how they respond to it. For instance, in going to the movies, one hopes for silence in the theater (Silence is golden, right?), so they can watch a movie without distraction. How ironic. We want to trade people noise which is seen as loud, rude, and disruptive for movie noise. Because at that moment, we perceive one type of noise as entertainment, and the other as disruptive. It’s ultimately because we’ve paid money to be distracted by manufactured noise. I find it funny that silent movies are no longer produced. People can’t handle the absence of noise.
However you perceive silence in your life, I find it extremely valuable to seek it out. Everyone needs to experience the deafening sound of silence. It provides reflection and a moment of peace. How it affects you is a question you’ll have to answer on your own. Will you respond with happiness, joy, reflection, retreat, serenity, and peace? Or, will you find stress, anxiety, fear, busyness, hurry, and ultimately mental chaos in your absence of noise? Obviously everyone is different. Whether you need to stay connected to noise, or desire a respite from it, I advise you to seek it out. As you listen intently in the absence of noise, you may find purpose and clarity for your life that rings loud and clear.
God bless you!!
* This post was written as part of a blogging challenge based upon the book ‘642 Things To Write About’ by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.