Sunday, November 8, 2015
By far and away, the most powerful silence I experienced was in October 1988 on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. I was working as a volunteer on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Fifty-two acres of quilt panels commemorating people who had died from AIDS. Fifty-two acres of silence. Everyone who walked through the area, from street people to grief-stricken friends and family to members of Congress, either did not speak or spoke in brief, hushed tones. As I traversed the Quilt, I discovered that the closer I was to the perimeter, the louder the voices were. However, the normal-toned voices which sounded loud to me were all outside the perimeter. As soon as anyone's feet entered the hallowed ground formed by the Quilt, voices quieted and stilled. No signage requested or required it. Everyone simply felt the need for silence.
The only exception to the silence was at the podium where individuals read the names of the people for whom the panels were made. I had my turn in that spot, reading. And wept while reading, as so many others did before and after me.
Many aspects of our lives are inundated with sound to the point that we nearly fear silence. We understand its power without instruction. What is it that we fear? Power? Intimacy? Diminishment? Strength?
How do you feel about silence? What was your most poignant experience with it? Do you practice within silence?