“Silence is a beautiful thing.”
You’ve said this for years, but always in reference to the relief that comes when someone else shuts their pie-hole. While other people shutting up can often be lovely, I also find it lovely when I shut up.
When I started my second shift of silence in the midst of a beach volleyball game on our Labor Day stay day, the change in me was almost instant. My mind immediately becomes clearer, and I think that happens because I’m not spending so much time and energy on figuring out what I want to say and then actually saying it.
Rather than focusing intensely on the people I’m with, watching their expressions and focusing on their words so I can respond adequately, I instead shift my attention to my environment. My silence gives me the freedom to observe the beautiful and changing world around me. Just the other day, Kim was telling me something and in mid-sentence I stopped her and pointed at the sky over her shoulder at the clouds, which were fluffy and full, like a child’s bed littered with stuffed animals. We paused together and watched them for a while, appreciating their beauty, before resuming our communication.
Often, when I see something beautiful, I have the luxury of keeping it to myself. I cannot call out to anyone, and the little moment of wonder may be gone by the time I get someone’s attention and sign to them what it is I’m excited about. I’ve found that by being forced to experience it alone, it often becomes an even deeper moment. The magnificence of what I’m seeing or hearing — whether it be a chorus of insects whirring away in the night, or a field of wildflowers bowing to the breeze — becomes even more special because I am the only soul noticing it. The moment isn’t marred by being made into a spectacle, and I can immerse myself in the beauty for as long as I want without someone thinking I’m weird. Sometimes, someone will notice that I’m “in another world,” and they’ll follow my gaze or try to tap into my realm. That moment when they see what I see or finally hear what I hear is always incredible. Dawn breaks on their face, and they look at me with an expression that says, “Thank you for making me notice this,” even though they discovered it all on their own.
When I am silent, it is so easy to truly understand the world and people around me. I can see the undercurrents of energy in everything, rippling between people as they interact and shimmering in the air as the environment changes in minute ways nearly every second. I love watching my fellow Marchers respond to their environment, especially when they’re unaware that they’re reacting to anything at all.
When I am silent, my eyes begin to shout. Any emotion, I’ve discovered, can be expressed with intense clarity from the eyes. Even nuanced emotions with tiny details can be understood by the observer. When my mouth is shut, I can “feel” my eyes and what they’re saying to the outer world better than ever. When you are silent, people watch your eyes more than usual for cues. I find that because of this, all of my relationships with people intensify. There’s something about the eyes that will always be more powerful than words, but in our instantaneous, communications-focused world, I think the art of speaking with the eyes is easily forgotten.
I started seeing Chris during my first vow of silence. Despite being wordless, I could “talk” with him for hours each night, often without resorting to pen and paper. He could read the story in my eyes the way an artist notices that story in another’s masterpiece; the story that a casual observer will overlook. I could ask him complex questions, and with just a glance at my face he could respond. He saw the weight I carried from witnessing the cattle feedlots in Colorado and how it had torn the fabric of my being. I think he saw it so clearly that he began to feel the weight himself, and he began to help me carry it without my asking. He is the only one to ever know the whispers in the corridors of my mind, and all from reading my eyes.
It’s funny to think about, but in my silence I’m actually speaking for all those who are voiceless. We are used to cows and fish and trees being silent, but when a fellow human is silent? People notice that. Voluntary silence grabs their attention; it practically screams at them. It opens their ears to the quiet parts of life.
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
—Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax”
Dad, when I am silent, I can hear the voice of the world. It is a beautiful sound; one that can’t be heard with the ears.
I love and miss you with all my heart. Come visit soon.