I spent two minutes alone in bed in silence this morning.
I mean, technically, I spent a lot longer than that in bed in silence today, and debatably, I wasn’t in silence, as I left some musical ambience swelling around me. I debated turning it off, but left it too late, and thought it was more important to disengage from my computer and shut my eyes than to make the general hubub of housemates and birdlife more clear than the slow electronic growths of Machinefabriek.
Two minutes of noisy silence, in a morning full of silence and a week full of introspection.
But it was important.
It’s interesting that we mark memorials with silences. There’s an awareness that taking a step back is one of the more sacred things we are capable of doing, whether we spend it in prayer, meditation, frustration or contemplation. Whether we try to remember those lost. Their lives and troubles, or we try and contemplate the brutalities of wars and disasters. Whether we hold in esteem the lives sacrificed, or hold in tragedy the lives lost. Or whether we just sit in enough quietness and stillness to wonder about the nature of death itself.
We can relive wars in silence. We can reach for the ineffable in silence. We can distract ourselves or annoy ourselves.
We do it all in silence.
Being silent is a special kind of being alone, because it actually draws you into a shared space, sometimes. That’s why we have these big rituals. It’s because it’s good to spend a fragment of the time we’d normally spend calling strangers on the telly idiots, thinking about things that happened a long time ago. Thinking about death. Thinking about sacrifice and brutality and reality and…well… silence.
The rest is silence, you see.
Assuming, (and it’s a lot of assumption that I can’t be arsed to research) that two minutes of silence has been observed on the 11th November at 11 o’clock in this country every year since the armistice was signed, that’s a cumulative total of over three hours of silence.
Outside of rigid memorial, silence is double edged. I spend hours questing into countryside to avoid the thrum of cars (it doesn’t increase silence, it just increases bird song, which is better). I spend hours alone in my room, contemplating my failures. I desperately want someone to be silent with. To stop those silences being so awkward.
Except when I know how to be alone, when I don’t drown in silence, but sail upon the top of it. Silence can carry me to the highest heights. Lift me up and make me real.
But not always.
Sometimes silence is just the future memory of death. Or the remembrance of past death.
It’s no surprise we generally tend to drown it ourselves. Music and mechanics and electricity and civilisation. It’s all about noise. The hubbub of the friendly television. The chatter of the internet.
Is silence golden?
Never seen it.
Illustration by Emma