Post- Magazine

resonating with silence [A&C]

reflections on hearing and hurting and healing

Last spring, I paced around CVS near closing time and then called a guy I barely knew to go on a walk. After walking through the sharp cold of the lingering winter, we ended up in a lecture hall in 85 Waterman, where we sat in the front row and got to know each other. Every time he asked me a question, I fixed my eyes on the wall behind him and responded almost immediately, stalling with “well, like… I think that, um… yeah.” Every time I said something, though, he paused for a few seconds before responding, letting the empty air of the vacant lecture hall sit. It threw me off at first, but I started to appreciate the silence between sentences.

A napkin sat on the desk in front of me, and he wrote a message to me in blue pen. I took out a black one and wrote a message back. We sat in silence, writing on the napkin. When we ran out of space, we switched to a piece of notebook paper. A few months later, when he had gone from vague acquaintance to close friend, he told me that he had kept the paper, and I told him that I had taped the napkin into my notebook that night.


I’ve woven a deep fear of silence into my life. I’m terrified of spaces between words. I can never let the sounds sit, the paint dry, the bread rise. I always need to get in the way of stillness. I’m losing my life to noise: Whenever I don’t want to think about an issue directly, I listen to music, subconsciously wading through emotions with metaphors and melodies. I fall into a trance when I come across videos of glass bottles being rolled down a staircase or a man making a knife out of milk. Screens spawn in front of our eyes, sounds surge in our ears. Auditory and visual noise is an escape through overstimulation. If you shove enough media into your face, you can’t think too hard about your life. You can’t sit in too much pain. You can’t be too human. It doesn’t take much digging to find hundreds of tweets explaining the perils of being “alone with your thoughts.” As distractions grow more available, our culture is shifting to consider thoughts a burden. We choose convenience and surround ourselves with the noise of the everyday instead of listening for silence.

I tend to think of silence as a cavity that could be filled with noise or music or a conversation. As hard as I try to live in the moment, I consider silence to be the time before something else—time I’m wasting. I should be working, applying for another job, applying for another scholarship, doing my readings, re-reading the readings, learning Portuguese, learning Python. Silence is stillness, and stillness isn’t enough if you want to afford rent in two years. I constantly need to remind myself that time spent in my own mind, no noise to accompany me, isn’t a shameful lack of productive activity. It’s time spent cherishing my existence.

But a year later, I still appreciate the silence between my friend’s sentences. Even if he sits for a few seconds only to say “I disagree,” I feel comfortable in the silence. I know that he’s trying to understand me, and I know that he puts genuine thought into our conversations. Silence isn’t lacking with him; it’s a space filled with care and connection. I’ve often heard people say that they want friends with whom they feel comfortable sitting in silence. Sitting silently alongside someone requires trusting that they, too, enjoy your company. It demands a deep connection independent of verbalized validation. We stuff ourselves with noise and stimulation only to find real fulfillment in the quiet.

Recently, I’ve been running from noise. I want to get away from the hundreds of voices in my head, none of them my own. I try to convince myself that silence exists in moments stuffed with sound. I stare at anyone with their mouth closed at a party, telling myself that I can hear their silence and that it drowns out the Frank Ocean. I hyperfixate on the whirr of my fan as I sleep, wondering if maybe the soundwaves can align just right and make a special silence; if I listen a little closer, maybe I can hear it, maybe I can nestle into the troughs. I sit as still as possible on a beanbag chair, trying not to breathe. 

But even if I find silence, will it be enough to help me understand my every thought? Then, can I stop dwelling on pain?


Over winter break last year, I quit social media cold turkey, bringing my screen time down to 15 minutes per day. When I wasn’t at work, I sat cross-legged on my bed, knitting and refreshing my email until 2 a.m. every night, waiting for friends to email me back, writing 1,000 words at a time when they did. I didn’t listen to music; I just sat and thought. At the end of it, I felt no different.

In retrospect, it’s because I didn’t think of silence as full. I still thought about it in terms of what wasn’t there. Without perceiving silence as my friend did—as an opportunity to understand and reflect—I stayed still. I waited for issues to resolve themselves. I didn’t do the work necessary to make something change, and I didn’t live any more deeply than I had before. I just stared at the ceiling, unthinking, and I felt the same familiar sense of disconnect. I could feel comfortable in the quiet, but my palms grew clammy during meaningful reflection. I hadn’t gotten over a fear of silence. I had just gotten over a fear of lack.

Healing takes far more than silence. It takes work and focus that, in a culture and economy demanding constant productivity, seems unaffordable. Noise is available, it’s abundant, and most of all, it’s easy. Noise doesn’t force you to dwell on anything other than the noise itself. I don’t search for something to think about while listening to the crunchy static of feeble little horse or Erasmo Carlos’s bouncy basslines. Noise tells me what to do and what to think, indefinitely shoving my own thoughts to the back burner. Healing demands that we make our thoughts and feelings a priority, including the hurt. It demands that we make space within silence to let negative thoughts ruminate and to work through them. To heal, we hurt, and to hurt, we sit in silence.

I’m trying to put more space between my sentences. I’m trying not to live in fear of silence, to recognize fullness in stillness. I want to look you in the eyes with our mouths closed. I want to live in the quiet.

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