When Silence is Not So Silent After All
I am sitting in my living room and enjoying a rare moment of being alone in my house. I live with 2-3 roommates at any given time in a community house overseen by Sanctuary London, where I am changed for the better every day by those who have not known home and stable housing and love as part of their life, and yet take a big risk to try, and who demonstrate courage as we live side by side: building relationship, trusting, sharing our days and meals together, and growing in the desire to be healthy. We are not blood family, but we live as family, and that means that a few people in a large world get to feel less alone. I love the moments of shared humanness we discover, where those struggling with mental health or trust issues can be themselves, and how through their vulnerability I am also given a space to be myself. To wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes too, say the wrong words, or share the sorts of things in myself that I would normally be encouraged by society to keep behind a mask, acting like everything is ‘always fine’. Sound familiar?
Does this mean I want to be around people all the time? Absolutely not. I am a people-person for sure; in fact those of you who know me might be surprised to hear that I am an introvert to the core. I recharge my energy and spirit when alone; I love spending time with myself and could do so for weeks; I miss myself when I am around people all day every day; I feel emotion deeply and when around others for too long, I find a mountain of emotion that needs the space of a quiet stream (or sometimes more accurately a wide crazy river) to find its way out of me into the big sea of ‘making sense of the world’. I love to be with others and connect and hear what they are feeling and experiencing and living out, but I also need time alone to work out my embracing of those stories.
In our house, I love our evenings together in the living room, where I am blessed to hear the stories of the day, the little worries and big worries, to watch my roommate feel safe enough to sleep on the couch, and to receive the intimate bits of honesty that I might not otherwise get from these women who have become sisters to me. I know these women better than most … I am blessed beyond that I can to see the real them inside the walls of a home where the rest of our community might only get a good glimpse. I love being with them.
I am also learning through this very gift of being together, how much I love being on my own, how much I love silence, and how I come back to myself when the house is still and empty and quiet, except for the sound of far away traffic on Dundas, the odd voice or dog barking outside, the sparrows in our backyard, the random creak in the old floors, and the muffled sound of our humidifier downstairs.
There is something about an empty house. It feels more spacious, like the walls can breathe, like I can breathe, like my heart has just a little more room to beat its own rhythm.
I am learning to love silence and how it heals and brings out in us the sound of who we are, and for me, the sound of who God is. I am also learning that silence is not actually silence. Silence is filled with sound–even if it’s our own breathing. In fact, being alone allows us to hear the background sounds that fill silence in a way we don’t otherwise hear. In my house, silence includes the clink of a dish suddenly rearranging itself beside the sink, squirrel scratching on the fence outside the living room window as she runs away from my cat, banging of construction across the street, machine-cleaning whirr of a sewer down the street, our neighbours lumbering down the front steps of the duplex, and the cord from the blinds in the front spare bedroom gently tapping against the window frame when the breeze comes up. This is what silence sounds like. This is what soothes me.
It seems that silence is a mental space we find ourselves in when the world gets quiet and we can hear more clearly. In the park, sitting on a bench, silence is the dog walker calling to his dog “come here Sadie,” the wind moving leaves above me, the rain pinging the metal bench and nudging the ground to grow, the branch cracking as it moves towards another branch. In a coffee shop, while the music plays and cutlery and coffee machines brew noise behind the counter, and the people at the next table laugh together at a joke, silence is that very white noise that quiets my brain and allows me to write another blog post or poem, or concentrate on my photos. Mostly, it lets me hear the voice inside of me that I miss when I am too busy connecting directly with the world. Like in a musical theatre, when the orchestra fills the room, and then stops… and there in a moment of silence comes the still quiet tender voice singing love as she walks onto stage.
What if we took more opportunities to silence ourselves? What would you hear? Would it be your own voice coming to find you? Are you able in the quiet to hear sounds you never knew were there? I love being with people and I always will. My social heart will never leave me. And I love my time with my housemates in ways I cannot describe. But it’s the silence that lets me really hear. Truly hear. And the silence that reminds me of who I am, deep down. And the silence that lets me be ‘away in autumn’ even when I’m in my own home, alone for an hour or two.