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Ode to Silence

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"How much farther do we have to go?" my friend asked. "It's not far now," I replie.

Our lives are full of background noise phones, sirens, jack-hammers, obnoxious car stereos and trucks roaring past, which all steal our silence and subject us to unnecessary irritations.

The snow beneath our feet was crunching and became our mantra as we hiked through the woods; each crunch, like a fingerprint, was slightly different, depending on the lie of the ground and what was underfoot. On ice, when crossing an open swamp, or along the shore, the crunch was more like a squeak, like a mouse underfoot. In the woods, it was a true crunch, low and baritone; you could feel it vibrate up your leg.

"It's just up ahead," I called back to her.

We climbed a ridge, then looked down upon a wide valley. "There it is," I said. "What is it?" she asked. "You'll see," I replied. We started climbing down the bank, reaching from root to root to ease our descent. When we reached the bottom of the valley, I pointed to a large granite boulder and said, "There it is." We sat on the boulder, its concave shape cupping our bodies like a reclining chair.

"Listen," I said, "do you hear that?" There was a short pause, then she replied, "No, what am I listening for?" "Nothing," I said. "That's just the point. You can't hear anything, only the wind in the pines, the creak of frozen tree limbs swaying in the wind, and the odd squirrel roused out of its wintry den."

From the bottom of the valley, you could no longer hear the ever-present drone of the distant highway; the only thing to be heard was the trees, your breath, and your thoughts. "Can you feel that?" I asked her. "What?" she asked. "The tranquility, the calm, the magic," I said. "Do you remember what Shakespeare said about silence in The Tempest?" "No," she replied. "We read Hamlet that year in high school instead."

"He said 'Hush, and be mute, else our spell be marr'd.' Shakespeare knew the significance of silence," I said. "So what makes silence significant?" she asked challengingly. "Because," I replied, "out of silence we are born, and in silence we die."

"Some people are afraid of being alone with their thoughts," I said, "but they do this at their peril because they never come to know their true selves; they surround themselves with distractions, and noises." "Silence is like the dark," she said, "it scares people." "Yes, but in time, it is precisely that silence that allows us to see clearly." "It all depends on what you want to see, I guess," she replied in a slow, thoughtful voice.

In the city, we are not used to silence and forget what it sounds like. Our lives are full of background noise phones, sirens, jack-hammers, obnoxious car stereos and trucks roaring past, which all steal our silence and subject us to unnecessary irritations. We become so used to having noise around us that we can't function without it; many people feel the need to create noise around them so that they can work better, or sleep better. They call this "white noise."

Driving home that day, we passed a hospital. "Look at that," I said, "that sign." "Which one?" she asked. "That one, the one that says 'Quiet hospital.' " "Ironic isn't it?" she replied. "It is. Too bad there aren't more of those signs," I said.

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