Shelter in Place, Pt. IX: The Healing Silence

We’re five months into a global pandemic and the world is (still) on fire. If you listen closely, above the raucous tumult of daily news briefings and abrasively selfish protestors, you can hear the soft whine of every single person on earth collectively screaming through clenched teeth.

We all need a break. We all need a bit of silence.

As my wife can attest, I am one of those people who chooses to have music playing in the background nearly every waking moment of every day. And yet, as I write this, I’m wearing a Thrice t-shirt bearing a lyric that reads, “I’m finally seeing how the spaces make the song.” The shirt’s text concludes with one more line which is, fittingly, the song’s title: “Everything belongs.” This sentiment, that silence matters, that absence has value, has long fascinated me. As a parent juggling the responsibilities of raising a toddler and working from home while trying to properly observe social distancing guidelines, this idea feels more important now than ever.

Of course, the concept that silence has value is not a new idea—meditation has been practiced for thousands of years—and it’s not even a new idea modern culture. It’s been expressed in a host of forms over the years, from classical music to webcomics and everything in between. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (dun dun dun DUN), famously beings with a rest, capturing a feeling that Peter Jackson set on Gandalf’s lips, that of a “deep breath before the plunge.” More recently, The Oatmeal rightly described the need to “breathe in” as a necessary part of sustainable creation. Naturally, my favorite example of this line of thinking comes from Ursula K. Le Guin who, in the story “The Bones of the Earth,” wrote a line (which alludes to Shakespeare) that describes her in-universe magic system, the very concepts of writing and language, as well essentially everything that I have come to believe about the world:

That’s the art, eh? What to say and when to say it. And the rest is silence.

Yes, it is. And now, maybe more than ever, we need the rest. We need the healing silence.

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