clockThe radio was always on at my inlaws’ home. CBC talk radio was the default, or classical music programming on various FM stations. My ex-husband carried this habit into our marriage. We woke to the familiar voices of Information Radio and did the supper dishes to a backdrop of As It Happens. The clock radio by the bed gave way to the radio on top of the fridge as we moved through the house in a primitive sort of surround-sound.

I got used to it. But once in a while, when I had the house to myself, I would go around and turn off all the radios.

Both my children prefer to fall asleep to sound. Sometimes quiet music, but more often than not it’s talk. There were favourite books-on-tape (now on CD), some of which we owned and some of which we repeatedly checked out of the library. Both girls had large portions of the Harry Potter series virtually memorized–they had listened to it so often. Now it’s more likely to be a favourite TV series or YouTube channel set to loop. I often find myself closing a laptop that has been left chattering long after its user has lost consciousness.

There are times I like background sound myself. When I’m driving I typically have the radio or a CD playing. When I’m working on a project around the house I will sometimes put on a CD. But when the CD ends, I often don’t think to start a new one.

The truth is, I like silence. When I go walking, I don’t have myself plugged into an MP3 player– I don’t even own such a thing. I want to be surrounded by enough silence to let me hear the crickets and the frogs peeping along the riverbank. I want the silence of the lakeshore that frames the cry of a loon in the middle of a dark lake.

I want the kind of silence that lets me hear my own thoughts. Judging from the ubiquitous wires snaking down from the ears of other walkers I encounter, I appear to be in the minority.

To be deliberately silent for two minutes–as we do on this day in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in times of war–sounds like it should be easy. But for those of us who live in urban, western environments, silence is a foreign country. There is a massive industry dedicated to making sure that we never have to endure silence of any kind. It is easy fill our lives with an endless soundtrack of media and music.

So when we are asked to observe two minutes of silence in the company of others, there is a strange, uncomfortable intimacy about it. So many people aren’t used to being present to their own thoughts with that degree of focus. Even those of us who feel some degree of comfort with silence are unaccustomed to doing it in public.

I’m glad that two minutes of silence isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be easy. It should feel like a massive disruption to our normal patterns– a giant step outside our comfort zone. It should feel every bit as uncomfortable as it does. Because there was nothing easy for those for whom we do it.

23 thoughts on “Silence

  1. This is a fantastic post, extremely well written. I am one of those people who has to have background noise in order to fall asleep. I once lived close to train tracks – so close you could feel the train but became so numb to it’s existence I stopped feeling the floor shake or hear the whistle scream. But to force us into silence is definitely a statement, and it’s important.

  2. My grandmother could not sleep without some form of white noise. Me, I can’t stand the slightest humming. It’s interesting how we are all wired differently, but the changes in society make it hard for those of us who crave silence.

  3. I like this piece. Thought it was just going to be a commentary on people who prefer silence vs. background noise (I’m in the first camp) and then it turned serious, moving, and relevant. Nice transition. Nice sentiment.

  4. I work from home – alone. I do medical transcription, which is listening to doctors talk for 8 hours, but when I’m not working and my son isn’t home from middle school yet, I keep the house totally silent. I love it. I love when my husband and I drive long distances with the radio off – another form of silence where the only sound heard is our voices talking to one another.

  5. Yes, yes, yes! I totally get this. I need the silence too, and there are some moments that should not be interrupted with other noises. I love music — i am the only living person on the planet that still buys CDs and I have over 800 of them, but I have no MP3 player either because I don’t need to travel with my music. When I’m outside, I want to hear nature and my own thoughts. I don’t want distractions. I just want to wholly feel the warm sun on my skin. Silence is comforting in that way. I loved this post.

  6. I wonder what makes so many people so uncomfortable with silence, whether when they are alone or with others. Sure, moments of silence are difficult for the obvious reasons, but what else is going on?

  7. I sleep with an ear bud attached to my phone, so I can hear talk radio all night long. But, I appreciate silence. I like how you talked about silence when you walk. That was very nicely written.

  8. Well said. It is so hard to sit with silence these days, with the constant lure of social media at the tip of our fingers. But maybe it’s through the emptiness that we can find our own sense of fullness, completeness.

  9. Hooray for the CBC, Information Morning and, of course, Terry Kelly. We have played “A Pittance of Time” at our Remembrance Day ceremonies at the elementary school where I teach, for years now. It is a great song, with a great message, as is your post, too. Thanks for sharing and, well done!

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