Sometimes when I’m in a group of people and we’re all shooting the crap and I’m leading the conversation I’ll stop mid thought and just let it hang. I like to see what people do with silence. I like to watch how the uncomfortable comes out in others when there’s no one to spoon-feed them anymore. There’s usually only a couple seconds before someone has to make a noise. Someone will cough. Someone will go, “Hmm, yeah..” like they’re trying to drag back an empty thought that vanished a moment before. Someone will chuckle. Some hum. Some will eventually just walk away.
Silence does things to you.
I always hear people say crap like, “Silence speaks to you.”
I don’t think so.
I think that silence provides an opportunity for your real self to speak to you.
Because what you think about when it’s quiet reveals a lot about you.
I learned this the hard way in college.
I was in a city that I hated, getting burned out by school, work, and an unstable relationship. I was full blown anorexic. I was struggling with suicide. And it was loud.
It was always so loud.
So I started reading. I read some of my favorite books; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar.
There is a common thread that runs throughout those three books, and if you’ve read them I’m sure you know what it is.
If silence and sanity are best friends, then silence and insanity are their evil twins.
I would read until my eyes hurt and then I read until my mind hurt and then I read until my heart hurt and then I stopped reading. I went to school the next day and was sitting at my desk in the back of class listening to my teacher talk about how the blues scale is the foundation of all music and how Yo Yo Ma is overrated but all I could think about was how the walls were orange and the carpet was blue and about how much I dislike that color combination and then I started thinking that maybe I was crazy because I was getting so frustrated with those two colors and how it really shouldn’t be that way and how distraught I was because of it and then whatever side of your brain that thinks logically sent a electronic message to the other side of my brain that thinks creatively and it said something like,
“Well, maybe you’re insane.”
And that’s all it took.
And from that day on, I accepted that I was insane. And I kept reading the Wallflower book and then I finished that and got really close to Holden Caulfield and then I finished that and Sylvia and I became closer than we ever had before and then it all became very clear to me that,
“Yes, you are insane.”
And all the while it was silent, and I made sure to keep it that way.
Then I went home on winter break and was having dinner with my family and some old friends came over with their kids and we all hugged and exchanged Christmas presents and it’s my favorite holiday because it’s the only time of the year you can smell memories and everyone tries at least a little not to fight and we were all sitting down by the fire in the living room. And it was when everyone was talking but I was just sitting there blankly, smiling quietly, that I looked over and I saw him looking at me. And he just looked and looked so I looked back and our eyes locked and I then I saw it. I saw in his eyes the same thing I saw in my own head and at that moment I realized that I both was and wasn’t alone.
And then we looked away.
I think because we could handle the silence.
To this day I wonder how it is possible that I crave silence so often. Is it something instilled in me from my mother’s womb? Is it some inborn knowing that tells me that silence is where we question, where we get questions answered, and where we figure out that questions don’t even matter? The quiet is so interesting. There is so much to discover in silence that I think people don’t want to know because it genuinely scares them. And for good reason. Where noise is void is where you discover who you were made to be, not just who you are. And maybe that’s why a lot of people are never truly happy… because they never took the time to open that dark door, to step out into the cold, shivering, whimpering, and then to start walking.
‘Cause like I said, silence does things to you.