I have been thinking lately about silence. It occurs to me there are as many different varieties of silence as there are causes. According to one reference, by definition silence is “the absence or lack of noise” or “a refusal, failure or inability to speak” or “an absence of notice or acknowledgement of something.” But silence is not an absence of communication, nor is it void of meaning.
I have known many different kinds of silence.
There is the comfortable silence between old friends, the embrace of easy camaraderie and echoes of remembered conversations folding around like a warm cloak.
There is the eerie silence after a hurricane when the wild creatures that fled to safety have yet to return home.
There is the tense angry silence of misunderstanding between lovers, hurt feelings and injured pride, a long night spent hugging the side of the bed.
There is the silence of a disapproving parent, weighted with generations of disappointed expectations, more effective than any scolding.
There is the silence of a sleeping child, interrupted by quiet murmurs and soft breathing, a mere pause in activity, a source of wonder.
There is the silence of grounded air traffic, of tear-drenched memorial services and the stoic throat-choked endurance of public grief.
There is the awe-inspired silence as the last note of brilliantly played music resonates through a crowd of people collectively holding their breath in that syncopated moment just before the applause.
There is the silence of inattention, of distracted absorption in other things that often leads to startled realization and rushed apologies for the lack.
There is the silence just before dawn on a winter morning, before the plows and the sleds, when the first heavy snow has fallen during the night, muffling the world in a thick blanket of white.
There is the awkward silence of newly met strangers, not knowing what to say or how to say it, broken by self-conscious laughter or inane remarks.
There is the taut silence in the night that speaks of danger, when even the crickets are still, sensing the unseen threat.
So many kinds of silence, saying so many different things.
And then there is the silence of an overture rebuffed, a message not deemed worthy of a reply, the kind of silence that wields a weight capable of crushing the spirit and destroying the soul. A dismissive silence for which there is no defense and no remedy.
But what hurts more is the slow realization, too late, that you earned it.
And there, echoing with self-condemnation and contrition . . .
. . . is silence.