For some, silence is golden. For Sally Sampson, it can be pure torture as she's forced to confront her thoughts.
Sitting in absolute silence, a realisation hits me. I'm absolutely fucking terrified of silence! And I don't mean that middle of the night quiet where you can still hear the occasional car go by or the annoying sound of cats mating near the rubbish dump (i.e. the street) opposite your building. I mean a total, utter, the-world-must've-been-nuked-while-I-was-sleeping silence that is only somewhat depicted in zombie movies.
Last week, I took some time off and found myself in a hotel room at night, away from my family and away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo; and it was there that I found myself face-to-face with one of my biggest fears: a 'hush-hush' that not even the PussyCat Dolls could bring to life in song.
As many of you know, my job involves a lot of talking (which is good because I don't know how else I'd make a living) and anyone who meets me immediately discovers one thing: I really don't shut up! I talk through most situations, serious or otherwise, and once I get a-rambling, there's really no stopping me! For the most part, you can always faintly hear me if I'm situated in your immediate surroundings… like the persistent humming of air conditioning, though not quite as subtle and definitely not as cool. And even though, in my family home, I always crave a somewhat more peaceful and a quieter environment, I'm the first to admit that I really do find a sense of comfort in the endless screaming and racket that my family subject me (and the rest of our building) to.
But having the silence take over and overwhelm me to the point of allowing me to actually complete sentences in my head is surprisingly not something I enjoy at all. I mean, I remember at the time, sitting in the hotel and being very acutely aware of my pulse. To be honest, I didn't know that was a thing you could be aware of unless you were:
a) Having a heart attack.
b) On an exercise machine.
c) Watching the latest episode of Game Of Thrones.
But for some reason, I can tell you that as I sat there and listened to the endless quiet, my heart was beating at an average of 70 beats per minute. Yes, it's true, I've travelled away from all the noise and the first thing I did was sit down in a hotel room and measure my heart rate. I know what you're thinking...if I don't slow down, I might hurt myself! #pathetic
To be quite frank, I'm not even sure why I am afraid of silence. I just know that when that stillness descends, rare as it may happen, I am drawn as though by a gravitational pull to turn on the television or turn up some music or talk on the phone or talk to myself! Basically, do anything at all to keep the quiet from properly settling like fog around me.
And I can’t help but ask myself why.
On my bucket list (yes, I have a very long, very comprehensive bucket list) one of the things that I want to do before I die is spend a day in silence. I remember writing that down years ago and thinking how easy it would be to tick that particular item off...
It's been six years and I still haven't managed to get round to it, even though it would literally cost me close to nothing and would just require me to isolate myself and shut my trap. I say ‘it would cost me nothing,’ though, thinking about it, I may be putting what little sanity I have left on the line by attempting said experiment.
Lots of people when they meet me, find me to be quite a cheerful character. I’m always smiling and laughing and trying to motivate people to be the best they can be (or so I hope), so it can be quite hard for them to imagine that I wrestle with any demons in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory daydream that I live in. Like anyone else though (and very much like Willy Wonka), I have my demons too.
I am my own worst critic, and if you think I’m a BITCH in general, you should see how much of a BITCH I am and have been to myself over the years. I cannot express nor fully relay perhaps how often I have to still wrestle with notions of inadequacy and hopelessness. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes just to pray myself through the toxic whispers that contaminate my mind…in the silence.
I spent years of insomnia during my late teens where I became almost delirious, just battling voices that would not go away. Voices that would tell me how much of a failure I was, how I would never amount to anything, how I was cursed by God, how I would spend my life in abject lonely misery, that I should just end it all…
And all of this went on (can you guess where?) in the silence…as I’m sure it does for many people, because I refuse to believe that I’m alone in this. In this age of distraction, people can literally run away from everything for the duration of their lifetimes! Some people live their lives without ever dealing with core issues like how they see themselves, whether or not they are happy, if they’re moving in the right direction. They just go mindlessly from one thing to the next, always moving and never thinking.
However, the day of reckoning will come and whether it’s after a lifetime or while there is still an opportunity to turn things around, there is no escaping it. The silence will catch up with us.
But I can’t shake off the feeling that the answer to the problems that plague us is in us learning to make peace with the silence. We need to stop making noise in an attempt to distract or deny the presence of the little devils in our minds, because we often just end up disorienting ourselves. Our demons need to be confronted head-on without distraction and without fear, if we are to truly overcome them.
As Chaim Potok, author of the Chosen once wrote, “I’ve begun to realise that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all of its own.”
I have a lot to learn (and a lot to confront it seems) in this respect.
Now, I’m not sure I’m ready for a whole day of silence just yet, but maybe I’ll try an hour.
And as Willy Wonka himself once said “Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous!”