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Communications 4900: The deafening sound of silence

By Charlotte Cerminaro
web posted September 24, 2018

What is silence, and why is it important? We don’t think about it very much; it seems people are drawn to loud noises and many words. If silence is simply a lack of sound, then ‘peace’ can be defined as the absence of war. They are both and neither. A person can stand silently in the midst of a noisy crowd, completely oblivious to the chaos. Two friends are conversing and one asks the other a simple question--but suddenly the answer seems complicated and the friend pauses, too long. There is no sound, but the silence is deafening in that momentary search for words. A thousand people are packed in an auditorium. They sit motionless, completely spellbound as the last notes of the Adagietto in Mahler’s 5th symphony fade out. The musicians don’t move a muscle and the silence is electrified with emotional tension. The spell is broken with the horn call announcing the finale.

This subject gets more heavily weighted when I consider the daily struggle with my own ADHD-addled brain. Too embarrassed to talk about it much of my adult life, it greatly impacts the silence and peace of everything, and everyone, around me. The constant flow of ideas, variations and problems compete with an overload of incoming information--sights, sounds, emotions--and the important conversations and responsibilities must be sorted out. The everyday technology and media wars that define our era only exacerbate this issue. A quiet, relaxing evening at home together is neither quiet nor relaxing for my husband. My constant noisy activity and inability to sit still make it difficult to even watch a movie. Most people know the importance of making time for peace and quiet. For me, and those around me, these breaks are frequently needed but much more difficult to accomplish.

On one typically chaotic evening, trying to organize some recreation and relaxation for the whole family, we were packing for our camping trip. Roaming around looking for needed items, I found a book I’d lost a month ago. Then something else grabbed my attention and before long my buzzing activity was quite far from packing. At some point the neighbor’s dog started barking and I wandered outside to see what was happening. My curiosity satisfied, I was about to go back inside when a quick glance at the stars in the night sky stopped me in my tracks. For a few moments, time seemed to pause and the compelling sight, along with the complete stillness, shut off all the clutter in my mind. The peaceful beauty of the night sky and the ever-present, silent vigil of the stars seemed to cover the entire neighborhood in a palpable, gentle hush.

Astronomy has long been a hobby; there was nothing so unusual in the sky that night. It was the silence. Much information was conveyed in that moment that was not spoken. We have no words in our vocabulary that can adequately define, or even describe certain moments. Just what is it that can be communicated in silence--anything, everything? I don’t really know, perhaps it depends on the situation. But it seems to carry more significance than I ever realized. In the book of Kings, as Elijah is waiting for God, He did not arrive during the sound and fury of the earthquake or windstorm. It was after these died down, in the quiet....then, a still, small voice. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. © 2018

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