There is a sound that has always comforted me. When the crash and bang of the world rings in my ears and I cannot think straight, I seek it. When a room full of people all seem to be talking at once and department stores are blaring announcements that are echoing inside my skull, I look for it. When meetings with folks who are trying to outshout each other and highway traffic are swallowing my sanity, I need it desperately.
The sound I love is silence.
It was my good fortune during fourth grade to move to a new house that had a steep slope behind it that led to 120 acres of untouched woods. It was my own personal sanctuary. I would climb down the slope and sit atop a ragged crag of high rocks for hours, watching and listening to a creek meander through my woods. Few people would venture to the bottom of my hill and beyond. The tree branches each had their own voices, with giant, arthritic oaks groaning against the caress of fall breezes and elegant maples swishing their leaves in harmony on summer afternoons. Bird songs and squirrel barks mingled with the rustle of tall cattails near a marshy area that ran down from a golf course.
I sometimes wondered, as I sat alone, if what I was doing was normal. I did frequently come down into the woods with neighborhood friends and raft on the creek and climb and explore caves. But just as often, I sat solitary atop my giant rock perch, soaking in the smells, sights, and sounds of my quiet sanctuary. It felt akin to being in church.
When I became an adult, my classroom became my very quiet place. Students engaged in conversations with me and each other, often on an intense level, but without shouting or interrupting each other. If I asked a question, I would wait quite a while before a hand went up. The silence in the room didn’t bother me. When students would look at me, wondering why no one was saying anything, I would say, “Silence is my friend.”
Sensory overload can feel almost painful, and thinking and productive work are most often accomplished apart from others. We introverts agree with Confucius that “silence is a true friend who never betrays.” And, when the world becomes too loud, we gently ask, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.”
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