Quiet vs. Silence

I am an introvert. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it. I don’t mind being on my own, reading, watching Netflix, singing, dozing, and writing. It is how I rest, recharge, and recover from the rigors of the day-to-day. I like quiet.

Life is not very quiet.

I teach eighth grade; eighth-graders, and students in general, are not quiet. I also have a rambunctious six-year-old Gryffindor of a child; she is not quiet. Life is very rarely quiet, so I will grab it with both hands whenever I can find it.

For some of my dear ones, this concept is a bit perplexing: my need for quiet, specifically alone quiet. The need to be by myself. Some of them are the opposite: they don’t like to be alone. And I get that; it’s part of their extroverted personalities. It is part of the way God fashioned them, and I have never minded that. Recently, though, I found myself explaining to my husband that quiet and silence are two different things for me. Up until that point, I had not ever thought about it in that way. It boils down to these two realities: Quiet restores me, but silence destroys me.

I have written on silence in friendships/relationships and how it affects me before (https://awriterbecoming.com/2014/11/02/nablopomo-day-2-the-weight-of-silence/), and that is still true. Quiet, however, is different. I have read quite a few writings on the benefits of silence but have never found any that differentiate between silence and quiet in the manner that they do for me. There is much to be and that is said for the meditative benefits of silence, sinking into it in order to still your mind and soul. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am not talking about meditation. I am talking about restoration.

For me, quiet is restorative. Quiet often includes comforting ambient noise, providing a baseline to my heartbeat. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen or the air conditioning in the bedroom, even the trill of birdsong in a forest doesn’t bother me. Those things are part of the quiet, of the space in which I can recover. Quiet can be my choosing to spend the day without talking, thus letting my mind roam. Quiet can also be having the space and freedom to sing at the top of my lungs all day if I want, refilling the creativity of my soul. Just the other day, I managed to get home a few hours before my husband and daughter, and I indulged in a long hot shower, a fried chicken dinner, and an episode of Gentleman Jack. Yes, it was super indulgent and restorative in the middle of quite a crazy, stressful week.

Quietness feels natural to me. Quiet is stillness. It glides across the floor and invites me to sit and rest. For me, quiet must often be sought out. I need to specifically carve out time to be quiet and to slow down. Sometimes this is by myself; sometimes it is with very select company. Rarely does this happen in large groups, however. Fun can happen there, but quiet does not. Quiet helps to restore me, helps me recover.

Silence, on the other hand, is a completely different thing  for me. Silence, particularly in friendships/relationships, feels sullen and heavy. It strides across the floor, takes up space and air, and my stomach drops when its weight settles in the room. Whereas quiet is a natural state for me, silence feels deliberate, pointed. Silence feels like withholding, whether that is a withholding of communication, honesty, warmth, connection, or all of the above. It is, as a friend put it, “the absence of an outside world, the world that quiet gives us leave from. Silence is isolation.” Isolation. That is exactly what it feels like! When I encounter silence, that profound ‘nothing’, I feel like I am isolated from that person or situation. It hurts.  Just as when a fridge or a fan suddenly turns off and the stillness that comes is so disturbingly complete as to be startling, so silence can trigger a constant alarm in my soul. Alert! Alert! Something is wrong! And that constant tension shakes me apart. I cannot sleep when silence comes to stay. It is too heavy; it makes breathing feel like an Olympic feat. As I told my husband, silence destroys me.

Yes, quiet and silence are very different for me. In the midst of quiet, I can begin to calm. Silence puts me on pins and needles. Understanding that has brought me a measure of peace. Realizing that there is indeed a marked difference between the two for me has helped me put quite a few things into perspective, even if my view of silence and quiet differs from that of others. I am an introvert. I like quiet. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it.


Bracing from Buoyancy to Letdown

Last week, I rode a high brought on by the spectacular live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar that aired on NBC’s network on Easter Sunday, starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon. I had never seen a production of JCS or listened to any of the soundtrack before, so this was an entirely new experience for me. Godspell I was familiar with, but I had never gotten to know JCS, although I knew of it.

All last week, the strains and melody of “Everything’s Alright” were the undercurrent of my days. I even found myself singing the first stanza of the song to a student who was nervous and stressed about a test they had in my class. All week, this musical—this story of Judas, Jesus, and deep, soul-searing humanity—buoyed me up and kept me afloat. The actors’ faces have shown up in my dreams. Their voices have filled my quiet moments, my heart and soul birthing prayers from the lyrics they breathe and belt.

Jesus Christ Superstar has been a Godsend of a soul lift, one that I have needed deeply and dearly. It has been a difficult few months, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I have felt heavy, off-center, not myself. Nothing has felt aligned—not my emotions, my prayers/time with God, my sleep, my libido, my energy, my reactions and responses, nothing. Often, all I want to do after a full day of teaching is hide in my room with my earbuds in and not speak or have to spend spoons on anyone. Of course, unfortunately, this means my family suffers from my lack of presence and being present. For weeks, it’s been this way, this off-centeredness, so to feel the buoyancy of this beautiful musical was nothing short of a miracle. As we head into a new week, though, I find myself fearing.

I fear the letdown. Buoyancy like this doesn’t last as the novelty becomes commonplace. I fear the shine falling off, the powerful lyrics becoming ordinary as I listen to them over and over. I fear that the off-centeredness returning, the heavy tiredness settling on my shoulders and sapping my spoons and energy. It is like the winter weather, which seems to refuse to let go as, morning after morning, now into April, I wake to snow on the ground where previously there was none. Like that unexpected snow, I silently worry that the low places will return, and I’ll crash back to earth again. That sudden stop hurts, like a lot.

This past weekend, as I embarked to the grocery store on my own (a rare thing), I kept my earbuds in as I did my shopping, humming and mouthing lyrics to JCS’s pieces, and there was a freedom there. A soaring amidst the mundane, and I realized how much I have missed it. I’ve missed feeling freedom. Freedom to be me and enjoy what brings me life and joy. Even though I am afraid that it won’t last, for now I will hold onto it. Hold onto that freedom, that soaring, those miracles amidst the mundane. I will keep on singing, sharing, and hoping that this is just the beginning of feeling like myself again.

Five Minutes in the Frost

Earlier this week, in listening to her The Next Right Thing podcast, I took Emily P. Freeman’s admonition to give myself just five quiet minutes to heart. So, this morning, as I took out the trash, I gave myself five extra minutes in the frosty outside. I wandered around the front yard, looking at the flower beds that I planted back in September, with the help of my husband and father in law. I can see the shoots of my flowers–daffodils and crocuses–pushing up through the mulch in defiance of the cold, and I find myself growing more and more excited every day. I’m ready to see their colors burst out in vibrancy after a cold, bleak winter.

The sun had just come up about an hour previous, and I could see the rays and glow branching out in the sky from behind our house. The air was bright and “clear and cold and so clean it almost sparkled” (S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders), and birdsong filled the new morning. It felt as though the birds were rabid to make up for those frozen silent weeks of the winter when the icy cold stole all sound and wrapped the world in a thick quiet. Later on in the day, as I left the house for errands, I noted the same flower shoots looking even perkier in the now fully-bright and warm sunlight.

Spring is coming, I can feel my heart sing. The sun, the light, the warmth, and the color are returning, and I honestly cannot wait. After a busy, hectic, stressful week, those five minutes did me a world of good.


Taking the “Should” Out of Christmas.

The Christmas Season is in full swing and I’m already feeling the stress. My daughter is now old enough and aware enough to realize that she wants things, wants specific things, and so, this year, we have been presented with a Christmas list. Two things on that very specific list, however, have proven difficult to obtain: a doll that looks like her Daddy (they just don’t make male dolls with facial hair; tsk tsk, representation, people!) and a talking Pikachu. The latter is this year’s hottest toy, which she saw on a commercial for ten seconds while at Pizza Hut for lunch (curse my love for their salad bar) and is now obsessed with. That day, she spent the rest of the afternoon telling anyone who would listen that her grandpa is going to turn into Santa Clause (honestly, Grandpa is the foremost of the two figures; Santa looks like Grandpa and NOT the other way around) and bring her a Pikachu “that talks out of his tummy”. I have looked and shopped and searched and that Pikachu can be found nowhere for a decent price, “decent” being less than forty dollars at this point. It’s out of stock in all the local toy stores (and Toys R Us apparently won’t ship it from a warehouse, only fulfill the order from a stocked store) and the third-party sellers on Amazon have to be making a mint off these things, the way they have priced them up. Profiteering, I tell you! So, yeah, no pressure there. I am also already freaking out because I still have people on my list for whom I have bought zero gifts as of yet. My Christmas cards haven’t been sent out because I haven’t picked up the prints of our family portraits yet. Yes, I know it’s only the 6th but, in my mind, I’m already way, way behind. I should have gotten most of this done already.

It’s admittedly very, very, VERY hard to stay mindful and focused on the season, never mind relaxed, when you are bombarded on all sides by the STUFF of Christmas.  The doing, the decorating (don’t have those up yet either), the cooking, the socializing, the performing…it’s so much, isn’t it? There have been too many Christmases that I have regretted getting caught up in the stuff and missing the beauty of Christmas, the quiet moments, the mindfulness and remembrances because of all the stuff that I think I should be concentrating on. Wait, there’s that word again. Should. There are so many “shoulds” in Christmas, aren’t there? Should there be so many “shoulds?” I should cook. I should get those cards done. I should have gotten all my gifts already. I should help with all the events. I should get the decorations up before people come over. I should, I should, I should, I should!

“Should” wears me out. “Should” makes me want Christmas to be over already. I want to get rid of “should”. I want “I will” this Christmas. That is what I want.

Yes, I will read you a story.

Yes, I will watch a movie with you.

Yes, I will have another cup of coffee.

Yes, I will listen to you.

Yes, I will take a walk.

Yes, I will sing a song.

Yes, I will sit alone in the quiet for a bit.

Yes, I will pray with you.

Yes, I will laugh.

Yes, I will help you.

Yes, I will let good be good enough.

I want this to be an “I will” Christmas. I will slow down. I will do my best and not push for perfection. I will be happy with smaller decorations, fewer gifts, and quieter moments.

I could blame the rush on being back to work full-time this year and not having as many free hours in the day for all the “stuff”. No, I won’t do that. Instead, I can just say, “I will do what I can”. I will  do what I can to make this a lovely holiday for my family and for myself. I will give myself permission for quiet moments, for time alone, to do things that I enjoy as well as what I think others might enjoy as well.

Let this be a Christmas of “I will”. Let’s give ourselves a break, take a breath of cool, clean air, and gift ourselves with an “I will”.

BloPoMo Day 3: “Grace in the Empty”

I spent most of the last week feeling like death warmed over, in the grips of a horrible seasonal head-cold. I blundered and slogged through the school day as best I could and would then collapse at home. We subsisted on take out and fast food, the laundry, dishes, and tidying went undone, and I was the most lackluster of playmates and confined to indoors, much to my daughter’s chagrin.

I felt awful but, even more, I felt guilty. Guilty for not cooking healthy meals for my family. Guilty for not cleaning my home. Guilty that we were running out of clean hand towels for the bathroom because I had not done the laundry. So, on top of being sick, I was also loaded up with guilt over something that I really could not control.

Then, as it often does, a quote floated to the front of my mind. Something I have read many times before about being unable to pour from an empty cup. And, boy, was I surely empty. Empty of strength, empty of health, empty of patience, empty of energy. I was a walking, coughing, sore, empty cup. I had nothing to pour out right then so I pulled myself together enough to decided that, for the nonce, I needed to sit in my emptiness. I needed to lean into the nothing and just take care of myself. So, as I arrived home from school each day, after making sure my people were fed and settled, I plunked myself down on the couch, pulled up the hood of my wonderfully voluminous robe (thank you for that perfect Christmas gift, dear husband) and tried to rest. I even went so far as to take a sick day from work, something virtually unheard of for me. I needed to take care of myself; moreover, I needed to allow myself to take care of myself.

Until a few short years ago, I didn’t realize that allowing myself to rest and let all the things I thought I “should” be doing go for a while actually had a name, that it actually was grace. I had no idea that not berating myself for what wasn’t done was giving myself grace. I knew that grace is unmerited favor or mercy, that it can be demonstrated when we make allowances for others’ shortcomings, or when we tell them that it’s okay when things aren’t perfect. However, I really didn’t know that there was such a thing as giving grace to yourself. The truth is that we, you and I, need grace as much as the next person. This is often the argument for extending it outward, because we know badly we need it ourselves. However, I strongly believe that it also serves as a valid argument for extending it inward to our own hearts and souls, too. We need to give ourselves permission to simply be, even when we are imperfect in our being (which is, honestly, all the time).

Perfection is not only unattainable, it is unnecessary. We do not need to be the perfect wife, the perfect husband, the perfect parent. We do not need to be the perfect host, the perfect volunteer, or the perfect anything, really. We are human, we are flawed, our stores are finite, and there is no shame in admitting such. No shame is stepping back, admitting our emptiness, and doing what we can to care for ourselves and refill.

The past two days, I have been hit by the post-illness industriousness that comes with returning health. I have cleaned, cooked, washed, tidied, and vacuumed, scrabbling my little world to rights. Apparently, the mood was so infections that my four-year-old daughter took it upon herself to join in the fray by cleaning her room, all by herself and with no request from me! (Miracle!) With this, I have experience the satisfaction and joy of a job well done, rather than lamenting the letdown of a job attempted while I was way too tired to do it well. By giving myself grace, I managed to give myself the gift

There is no shame in giving ourselves grace. In allowing for our own personal shortcomings and giving ourselves permission for things to be imperfect, for our steps forward in progress to perhaps be small for the nonce. There is no shame in allowing ourselves to lean into our emptiness, sit in our nothing for a while, take care of ourselves, and refill our cup.

{“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” – Jeremiah 31:25}

Be softer on yourself, dear friend. Give yourself a little grace in your empty moments. Have a sit. Eat something yummy and drink something warm. Read a book that you enjoy. Nestle and watch a movie with your people. Refill, refresh, and be. Trust me. The dishes will still be there tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. They will wait for you. So should you.


Casting of Light

I watched in fascination and more than a little awe as the candle rays intersected, bisected each other, arced, and danced across the wall over the steaming bathtub. The flickering wicks made the facsimiled sunbeams dance and bow, the bubbles in the tub taking on a brighter luminescence for brief seconds. 

I sank into the hot water, the light from only the candle pouring over my skin, splashing its earthy tone with gold, and the soft piano music trickling its sweetness into my soul. Days, though long and good on the earth, can leave my spirit devoid of quiet and awe. I had come, like a pilgrim to a wildwood chapel, seeking them, and I found them in flickering candle shadows on my bathroom wall.