Silence is that terrifying state in which man is present to himself and to others. It is not merely the lack of sound, for it also encompasses interior silence — in which our frantic reels of thought and image cease — and stillness — in which nothing is done. When we are truly silent, we simply are.
Now it’s a known fact that silence between strangers is an awkward silence. Why? Because neither stranger appreciates the other for who he is. Neither knows the other in his being.
To be silent — that is, to simply be — in the presence of one who neither knows or appreciates us as we are is a terrifying thing to the sensitive, and an awkward experience for all. (Imagine the horror if a man just met were to break off chatting and begin to simply be in your presence. McAwkward.) It can be awful to be utterly present to another, and so we make meaningless but necessary noise about the weather, college, and our material status, for we are at heart scared that, if we present ourselves as ourselves, stripped of all speech, action, status, and all that is not purely us — we will be deemed unlovable.
But the silence of lovers is not merely comfortable — it is indulgent. It is good to merely be with your beloved. Indeed, it is popularly considered a sign of true love, if a man can comfortably be silent with his beloved, and she with him. Why? Because this silence indicates a love of the other for who the other is, not for what the other does, says, gives or is useful for. And this love is the only true love: Love of the person as that person. Love delights in no more than the fact that the beloved is. I take all this as self-evident experience, but allow me to quote Pulp Fiction to back it up:
Mia: Don’t you hate that?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Mia: That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.
When we are truly silent, we simply are. And we can only do this in the presence of someone who we love and who loves us in return, for with them we are safe. We can “be ourselves” in the fullest sense of the term.
But we cannot have silence in the modern world. We are monstrous sinners, and silence, revealing the self to the self, damns us as such. Similarly, in our weak-families, bad-relationships, love-is-what-you-want-it-to-be world, we are not confident that we are loved. Silence will provide us with the answer to this, for — and this is a hell of a sentence coming up — we can only know we are loved for who we are when we become only who we are — when we become silent. When we simply are. But so frightened are we that the answer will be negative — “No one loves me!” — we prefer not to ask the question. We prefer to avoid silence.
This is the same reason everyone loves crappy music at crappy parties. No one’s listening to it, no one cares, but if it were to suddenly cease, in that instant of stunned silence before everyone begins to complain, every self would be revealed to himself and to others. Bad music is necessary to ward off the terror of honesty. Who could be comfortable, in the midst of a party of people gossiping and looking to get laid, to suddenly be, to be the child he still is, to be his most intimate self? Only love is comfortable with silence, and there is little love at an office party. (Depending, of course, on the office.)
And so it goes, elevator music and iPods helpfully filling the gap that screams of Hell.
Perhaps this is why we have the fanatic urge to post every emotional experience we have on Facebook, to instagram every sunset, to tweet every meaningful quote, to constantly avoid simply being, simply experiencing things, but forever outsourcing life to a realm in which in can be validated by others, and — most importantly — talked about, for in our heart of modern hearts we are not certain that our lives have value in and of themselves. We are not certain that our lives have value and meaning as just our lives, that is, in silence. (Perhaps this is why smart-phones make me miserable: Even when I am silent I am not, even when I’m alone I’m connected, and even when my heart is still a weight in my pocket demands me act.)
Our modern language works to abolish silence. The phrases “like”, “you know”, “I feel like”, our ahs, ers, uhs and ums — all these serve to fill those dreadful graves between the sounds we make. Thus, as a general rule, the less sure a man is of himself and of having his self revealed to himself and to others, the more unnecessary noises he’ll cram into his sentences. Thus there are more “likes” in the daily speech of a middle-school girl than can be found in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and far fewer in the woman approaching death. (Make sense?)
How much we rely on noise to avoid our selves, and to avoid presenting ourselves to others! We ask “how are you?” knowing full well that we don’t care how the other is doing. Why do we ask then? Why, for someone to speak! We ask “how are you?” and the moment the answer begins we sink into our own thoughts, because the point is not to have an answer, but to avoid the terror that is silence, the terror of presenting ourselves to others as we are, and having others do the same. It is not like this if there is love. Love wants to know the answer to the question “How are you?”
Have the point then: Silence does not interrupt noise, noise interrupts silence. Silence is that which is, noise is its absence. Our fear to believe in God exists in precise proportion to our fear of silence. For only in silence is our self present to ourselves and to others, and if there is a God, and if he loves us only as who we are — not for what we do, say, or who we think we are — than we can only experience communion with him in silence. The fear of not being loved makes us prefer to avoid the question “Is there a God who loves me?” We avoid simply being — the only way to ask that question. And so by noise we silence the silent God, and by frantic, constant action still the still, small voice heard only in human stillness.