(Written Summer, 2007)
Silence has become elusive. I chase it as a child chases butterflies through a field with a holey net. As a dog chases its tail.
Seeking silence, like deep hunger: my body trembles, I cannot concentrate, I am irritable and panicked.
I walk outside my building downtown, leaving work. Noise assaults me, kidnaps me, will not let me go. Brakes screech, backhoes growl and roar, jackhammers beat out unearthly rhythms, sirens scream. At the bus stop, lanes of traffic speed east, speed north, engines idle, then engage, rap music booms from too-large speakers, car alarms blare and echo off tall building walls.
On the bus, children scream, mothers scream at children, adolescents talk too loud, one-sided cell phone conversations pierce the clamor. My seat mate has headphones on that do not mask the sound of his heavy metal.
My breathing is shallow. I cannot find myself in the cacophony. I desperately try to connect with breath, with mantras. I plug my ears until they ache.
I arrive at my bus stop on Hawthorne to the din of street musicians, cafés al fresco on every corner with beer- or caffeine-induced conversations that compete with four lanes of rush hour traffic. I hurry home to refuge, to sanctuary.
Two-year-olds are in the back yard. They squeal and screech and cry, bang on pots in the sandbox. Up and down the street, dogs bark in a chain reaction to a passing jogger. Neighbors on two sides are remodeling, adding rooms to their already close houses. They do not keep bankers’ hours. Hammers, drills, sanders, planers, jigsaws, routers are constant companions to the afternoon and evening hours.
Rare moments when I do find silence, what do I do with it? Like the dog chasing its tail, I’m not sure what to do when I catch it. I have caught hold of myself in circular motion, the stillness still evasive, the need to fill it up profound. I sit on the cushion. I follow my breath. It leads me to something I must look up on the internet, something I must listen to on the iPod. Something I must write or read or watch. Someone I must call or email. Not later; now.
What am I escaping that lives in that silence? What thoughts or feelings will bubble to the surface if I allow them space and time? What fear keeps me from fully embracing the rare gift of silence? Though it is the thing I long for most, is it the thing I also fear the most?