Silence is elusive

I sit quietly, feeling contemplative. Slowly I become aware of the distant sound of traffic on the highway. Half a mile from my house, it is vague enough to escape my notice most of the time. During the day, when the neighbors are at work, my street is calm, but occasionally a car passes by and the disruption reminds me how grateful I am that the sounds of the highway are muffled.

Inside is calm; outside the wind gusts. The house reacts violently with sharp retorts; crackles and creaks that happen so fast I can’t identify from where they emanate. As the wind eases, the house settles and I can hear the remaining fall leaves rustle against each other as they strain to hang onto their branches.

The refrigerator clicks on and starts to thrum. I’m surprised. I thought it always ran, but when it stops again the silence is palpable. Except that it’s not silence; it’s only the absence of the sound the refrigerator makes. It’s a hole in the audible fabric.

My laptop, balanced on my crossed leg, hums. The white noise buffers my thoughts. Periodically the computer bleats to announce an email, or remind me that I’m supposed to be doing something else. When I’m working, the interruptions are jarring; unwelcome. If I’m distracted, they fuel my reluctance to return to work. Today, I am annoyed.

A gentle thump alerts me to the fact that the cat was somewhere she shouldn’t have been; the kitchen counter, a table. When I hear the thump it’s already too late to scold her. Besides, I didn’t actually witness her transgression. Maybe it was a poltergeist.

Across the house, our wall clock ticks. When I’m absorbed in my work I can’t hear it, but if I will myself to pay attention, to focus on my surroundings, the clock becomes intrusive. In film, there is something called rack focus. That is when the camera shifts focus from a subject in the foreground to one in the background or vice versa; one image is sharp, the other blurred. I wish there was a term for the audio equivalent.

I typically eschew solitude, equating it as I do with loneliness; quiet with despair. Ironically, I cannot work with music on, or the television. I can’t hear my inner voice if it has to compete with anyone else’s. Today, surrounded by sounds that I am not normally aware of, sounds that persist even when I am sitting quietly, I feel comforted. I am not alone: I am surrounded by the world. I am inspired by all the sounds of silence.

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4 responses to “Silence is elusive

  1. Sounds of Silence is also a beautiful song by Simon and Garfunkel – though I don’t need to tell you that.
    This is a wonderful piece of prose, Judy! How observant! XOS

  2. One of the great pleasures of caving is getting deep into the Earth sitting somewhere comfortable, and shutting off the lights to enjoy perfect darkness and silence. Of course, I’ve banged my head so many times that the quieter it gets, the more I hear the constant ringing in my ears, but for those less clumsy with their crania, the blackness and silence are a great experience. Or you could an isolation tank — I hear they’re making a comeback.

  3. Oh, this is lovely. I enjoy the quiet and have never equated it with loneliness. (I’m guessing you grew up in a small family.) Like you, I cannot work with too much sound going on around me. I am often overwhelmed by sound. My house also cracks and thumps, and lately it seems to gurgle much more than it used to. (We have hot water heat.)

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