Uncomfortable with Silence

The fascinating UU Lent prompts continue to take me down rabbit holes of thought. Silence is the word of today. I chuckled a bit when I walked into the office this morning to see absolutely no one in my entire area of cubicles. That led to quite a bit of silence, other than the ever-present noise-canceling hum.

This place looks even more sterile and silent in black and white.

Of course, by the time the morning moved along a bit, laughing came out of meeting rooms and a couple of coworkers came in for meetings. We just happen to have a lot of people at an off-site meeting, combined with the usual people working from home. I don’t think anyone’s staying home for coronavirus reasons, at least so far.

I Abhor a Sound Vacuum

It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with silence, even though I’ve found a quiet place to meditate daily for most of my life. Then I hear my breathing, so it doesn’t feel silent.

Growing up, my family were all readers, so you’d think it would have been quiet, but they were all “readers while watching television.” There was always some kind of background noise in my life. When I went to my room I played the radio until I finally got a little stereo (it was green plastic and was from K-Mart of its equivalent). After that, I read to the sounds of the music.

Me and Camille in grad school, taking a brief pause from nonstop yakking.

I also took a long time to be comfortable in silence when in groups of people. I must have driven my teachers crazy, because I wanted to answer all the questions, I talked when I was done with my work (always quite early), and I chatted while waiting silently in line. In small groups, I talked when no one else was speaking up.

And that went on and on. I sure talked a lot. I’m not sure why I felt the need to fill the air with the sound of my own voice. I had to concentrate to get myself to stop going on. Yeah, I had reasonable stuff to say, but I never gave other people who had to think a minute any time to talk.

Yes, coworkers, I have learned to shut the heck up.

Yes, I worked on that problem a lot! I have gotten much better at being quiet. I can sit in meetings and let all the other folks talk. Sometimes I don’t even share all my brilliant contributions. I can self edit! I learned to take notes to myself when I wanted to talk. Now that I have keyboards, I type to myself. Then you get to read it, the results of my logorrhea!

One thing that helped me learn to be a better conversationalist and meeting participant was watching others. I see how people react to the colleague who never takes a breath when they talk and vigorously resists any attempts to steer the conversation a different direction or end it altogether. I don’t want that!

That’s what marriage is about. Learning to deal with your differences, because you care.

I’m still working on waiting for my spouse to respond in conversations. He generally takes a lot longer than most people before answering a question or contributing to a discussion. I find the silences that ensue really uncomfortable, and can’t ever tell if he simply doesn’t plan to respond or is working something brilliant out in his head. I’ve started counting to ten before moving the conversation on or answering for him. I don’t want to be rude, but my ideas of the intervals between conversational turns are different from his. If I were still a linguist, I’d probably research it and write a paper about that.

But Suna, Don’t You Love to Be Alone in Silence in Nature?

That’s a paraphrase of an actual question I got when discussing silence. I do, indeed, love to be alone in nature. I love taking hikes, riding the horses way out on our property, and even sitting on the back porch alone. But it’s not silent out there. Sometimes it’s pretty loud, with all the birds communicating, crickets and cicadas, frogs and toads, cattle, bees and wasps, chickens, coyotes, etc. This is the music I like to listen to best at this stage of my life.

There’s lots to hear way out here in the middle of Milam County. Sara and I love it.

I can walk along, being embraced by a breeze that feels like an actual hug, and see, smell, and hear all the life around me. If this is silence, if this is being alone…it’s great with me.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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