The power went out in the middle of the night and it woke me up. It was actually the lack of any noise that did it. The sound of being plunged into silence forced me awake.
Notwithstanding some type of hearing impairment, it is very rare that people experience silence anymore. Unless we make the decision to retreat, or intentionally unplug, we will find ourselves surrounded by sound we may not even realize is there. Furnaces, fans, machines and appliances all have distinct rhythms and hums and it's something we get accustomed to—until they shut down—and we get closer to "hearing" complete silence. So rare is silence, some people feel entirely uncomfortable with it.But what a striking impact it can have…if we allow it.
The movie "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", telling the story of a magazine writer profiling TV personality Fred Rogers, defied most industry practices by using quiet in a bold way. During a scene in a restaurant where the two are having lunch, the writer is encouraged by Mr. Rogers to take one minute of silence and think about the people who love him. Initially the camera pans the setting, but then moves to Mr. Rogers who shifts his gaze directly into the lens, thereby inviting the audience to not simply sit back and observe, but to become part of it, and consider the people in their lives, too.
It's something Mr. Rogers did to great effect at other times including accepting a lifetime achievement award and during a convocation speech at Dartmouth. He remarked, "I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today."
Even in a movie that by intention is paced differently, taking that much time to just sit quietly was a daring move. What is the movie-goer supposed to do when an actor fixes his gaze on them and says nothing? Well, they can squirm uncomfortably in their seat or they can do what's been asked and take time to sit still and…think. That's when they might discover that the loudest sound of all would be the one most peaceful and unsettling at the same time—silence.
When we strip away the noise of the day, we might wonder what we are left with. If the constant hum or continuous din is interrupted, it would follow that we have less that is disruptive or distracting. But then what? Well, perhaps, just perhaps, we might be better able to hear sounds that are so imperceptible they aren't being heard the way they need to be.
The quiet cries of the lonely. The silent hurts of the grieving. The stilled voices of the isolated.
So how do we make sure we are tuned in to what needs to be heard? It might be easier than we think. We can simply take hold of that gift, the gift of a silent minute to give time and attention to what we might be missing. It costs nothing. It matters little how old or young we are. It can happen anywhere at any time by anyone.
But then what? What is to be done when the silence comes to an end and it is time to rejoin the roar? Topping the list, I hope, would be deeper appreciation for all those whose names come to mind during the quiet, but also a desire to address some of what we might be newly tuned in to--because we took the time to hear.
Acting on it can come quietly, too. The gentle stroke of a pen writing a cheque or the quiet click of a mouse to provide financial help where it is needed, the soft gurgle of water heating to become a cup of coffee enjoyed over an unhurried conversation, a hug of comfort when no words need be spoken, the hushed tones of a prayer, or the soundless act of placing a bag of groceries in the Food Bank bin; actions not needing to be loud, but ones that resound in their impact.
Silence is so much more than the absence of sound. What we hear when we let the quiet settle can become a jumping off point for making noise of the very best kind. That's my outlook.