“Listening to the sounds of silence” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (August 14, 2016).
The sound of stone and gravel crushing under tires signaled my escape was at hand. The small lot sat empty, as it usually is, and the trailhead stood in front of me, waiting patiently as it always does. The asphalt road, with its winding path to the impatient world I was running from, lay behind me. I stepped out of the car, and soon my feet touched unpaved earth.
My solitary sentence began.
Such prison breaks have become increasingly necessary for my soul, as day by day it seems this extroverted world into which I was born grows more and more extroverted, thriving on ever-increasing noise, exposure, activity, and connectivity. It’s Times Square sprawl, its echoing din far-reaching.
I run from the neon lights, and envy early man and the quiet he must have known. Imagine a world so quiet that the sound of a shooting star echoes across time as the past streaks by in the night sky. Our ancestors knew such quiet in their souls. That quiet, however, both in the world and in our souls, seems to be rapidly disappearing.
As are our ways of escaping it.
The park benches far away from the crowds where the misfit introverts gather to be independent together? They used to be relatively safe spots for quiet. Our open-carry permit for cellphones has changed all that. Today, I find myself increasingly playing the role of the involuntary eavesdropper. The stage changes — the waiting room, the check-out line, ballfield bleachers, or the bus — yet the noisy play goes on. Perhaps we could bring back the phone booth, those all-but-extinct props from the past. Not to provide privacy to the caller, but to give quiet to the rest of us. Need to make a call? Enter the booth, no quarters needed. Herman Munster was onto something when he installed that coffin phone booth in his hallway. I may even follow suit myself, just to bury the noise.
In the meantime, I run away from it, and escape to the woods.
Though not yet dusk, the Earth is quickly spinning away from the sun as I set foot on the trail. Immediately the canopy branching out above me seems to quicken the Earth’s rotation toward darkness. Rain from the night before has left the ground slick, soft, and shoe-suction muddy. It is not long before my presence is noticed.
A fly buzzes by my ear and I swat it away, continuing down the path. He follows me, though, and whizzes by my other ear just a few steps later. I swat again and quicken my pace. He comes at me still, louder and faster, whizzing and whirring — and taunting too, I am certain of it. The game continues minute after minute as I maddeningly slap, swat, and thwack at the air, a madman alone in the woods. I walk faster still, but the fly, an extrovert himself, is persistent, demanding attention, buzzing in my ear.
In nature I had sought refuge from the extroverted world outside it, and yet nature’s chief extrovert was sabotaging my retreat. Each buzz was another Marimba ringtone; each whirr a banner-towing airplane turning the ocean horizon into a billboard; and each deafening drone just another device spewing noise from our ever-connected, mute-neglected, wireless world.
Again, I ran from the noise. Slipping and sliding along the trail, I came to a stop a quarter of a mile deeper into the woods. Above my panting breath, I listened.
All was quiet. I had outrun the extrovert, and I smiled.
Standing in silence and breathing in the stillness, the slightest sound behind me caught my attention. Turning, I saw a black and red butterfly fluttering directly in front of me. In the quiet of the woods, I could actually hear her wings beat together. Nature’s quintessential introvert was talking — perhaps even singing — and my smile grew. Like listening to a shooting star, I thought. I watched her extemporaneous dance into the distance. Dance as if no one were looking. A butterfly must have said that.
Continuing down the path, I became convinced that God must be an introvert. To hear her, we simply need to escape the noise, notice the beauty, and listen to the sound of silence.
When I left the trail and pulled off that gravelly parking lot, darkness had already enveloped the Earth.
But my soul was shining.
As always, great job. I could “feel” the silence as I read it.
Thanks for including me,
Thanks, U. Bob!
I felt comradery every second of this column as I do with everything you write. Your columns provide those quiet moments, and laughter. Thanks for not wasting the gift~ Alice
Thanks, Alice – appreciate it!
I loved it! Thanks for sharing your gift with words.
Thanks, Karyn (and you’ll be happy to know this particular encounter took place at Cheslen)!
Beautifully written price soulfull read. I’ll look for more of your writing.
As soon as I read your piece, I could feel a sense of peace wash over me. I, too, feel inundated by the world’s constant noise and long to find an escape. I was recently in Washington state at Gold Creek Pond Lake, and I was absorbing its beauty when shortly thereafter two teenagers fired up their drones and sucked the joy out of the afternoon.
Thanks for the kind words, Pat, and for sharing your own experience searching for silence!