Complete silence is rare. Sound is a showy thing that dances about with an insisting, "Listen to me," sometimes faintly, but it is there.
Even when it seems quiet, there are still sounds – a breeze rustling leaves, bird songs, a bicycle swooshing by, a laugh in the distance. The quality of quiet has many subtle gradations that filter in among the noise of our lives.
But the silence is there if you allow yourself to be aware of its floating existence. It’s there as night settles in when lights come on, cars roll away, and people drift inside. It’s present before dawn in the wee hours when no one is on the streets and only the nocturnal animals, who pride themselves on stealth, are out and about.
Silence can envelope a couple, who were once chattering lovers eager to tell each other of even the smallest detail of their lives. But, as the excitement fades, the quiet cloaks them, either invited in by the pair who have settled into a knowing, warm silence; or as an invisible wall erected by two people who are tired of each other and embrace the quiet to avoid interaction. Sometimes such couples part, saying little, feeling it’s all been said.
Other times silence is a welcome relief, particularly once one gets home and can sit quietly in a chair away from the bombardment of hectic work, loud traffic, and blaring electronic devices which seem to be everywhere.
Then there’s the silence of empty places. A school playground in summer, the children now playing elsewhere freed from the bonds of school. A church on a weekday morning, it’s organ waiting for Sunday and resting in the sunlight that trickles through the stained glass. A high school football field with its dry summer grass drowsing in the off season daylight.
Silence can slide in on technology. People text messaging instead of speaking. The electricity blips off in a storm and makes everything stop, causing people to pause and wonder, "What now?" when the machines stop humming.
There’s the silence as music dies when a musical instrument breaks, is discarded, or worse, ignored. The notes a distant echo.
And what of the void of a missing "meow" or "bark" caused when a furry friend departs?
Silence can also be a self-induced barrier as one sits, staring off into the distance, one’s mind shrouded by thought that blocks the surrounding sound. Thinking.
And what of the silence of an empty soul, drained by hardship, neglect, abandonment?
But what of the king of silence? Death has its own dearth of sound. Death’s silence shrouds pall bearers, who work to show no audible strain, stoically doing their job, masking grief, swallowing sound. Death walks with you in cemeteries and raises the question – is the quiet of the graveyard a silence of regret or a silence of peace?
Then, there is the deepest silence of all – the silence of being alone with no one to ask about your sigh.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.