Friday, July 28, 2017


The author and narrator of "Hillbilly Elegy", J.D. Vance, spent his time with various "fathers", both genuine and temporary.  At one point, as a youngster, he visits his father's new home.  He says

Dad had built a home with an almost jarring serenity.

Vance, J. D.. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (p. 91). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The phrase "jarring serenity" got my attention.  The most jarring serenity I have experienced came when my class of 5th graders had all gone home.  We had a mixture of bus kids and walkers but when they had all gone, my classroom nearly vibrated with quiet.  But over time, I have seen more and more avoidance of silence, and I think many people are uncomfortable with several difference silences.

It is true for many creatures, I think, not just humans, that abrupt silence can be a warning of bad weather, something fearful.  The sudden silence might be a sign that everyone and everything in the area is still, just listening to hear what is going on and where.

I don't know if sufficient contrast between a very noisy environment and very sudden, very complete silence can produce actual pain but it is very attention-getting.

Quakers know a great deal about silence.  Some Quakers note the periods of silence observed in other churches are very short, especially in comparison with an hour of silence that a large group of the Society of Friends might experience.  It is true that a group of say 50 or more may well include some members who truly feel a need to make a statement they feel is called for by the times and their inspiration.  But any group of experienced Quakers can comfortably maintain their attention for an hour of quiet.

The silence in such a meeting is not an insult nor a failure.  It is a time of communion and an honorable, sacred event.

It is not uncommon for young people, say, under 30 years of age, to feel that silence in a group, even a little group of two, is not only an invitation for someone to speak but a reminder that silence between and among people is a sign of both communication failure and a waste of good talking time.

I know that older people often find that conversation of all types is the most valuable thing in their day.  Get a group of six or so people together, of an age where they have grown up, been formally educated, completed work careers, completed child and maybe grandchild raising and you will find they have lots they want to talk about.  Older people may feel they have plenty of silence in their lives.  In today's world, we can usually have talk or singing or music if we want.

Personally, I still say that some good periods of real silence are helpful and healthy and I look forward to them.

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