This morning, I drove to school in silence. On most days, I’ll usually turn on some music, listen to NPR, or plug in a podcast. But this morning, I powered down.
During last Sunday’s homily, Deacon John shared his experience at a retreat where he had to remain silent the entire time he was there. An affable and extroverted person, he joked about how difficult he found the silence at first (there may have been a joke or two about talking to his sandwich one night). But what he took away from the experience was a better understanding of the value of silence. “What can we hear,” Deacon John asked, “when we allow silence to enter our lives, when we allow silence to speak?”
I wasn’t thinking of last Sunday’s homily when I drove to school this morning, but I understand where he was coming from. Without any music, news, and noise, I only had my thoughts to keep me company. As I followed the curves of the turnpike and eased through the toll booth, I mentally walked through my day, taking notes about what papers I needed to copy, what emails I needed to send. Having first period off makes the mornings feel a little less hectic.
There aren’t that many moments of silence in my life these days. In fact, if anything, noisy might one word to describe my life. As most teachers know, our days are filled with constant chatter, not that I generally mind. I think I’d rather have the noise than the too-quiet cubicles of office life. I once read somewhere that teachers are asked more than 300-400 questions per day. That’s a lot of questions. That’s a lot of students who ask everything from Can I got to the bathroom? to Why is the default in Microsoft Word Calibri and not Times New Roman? (that’s a question I got today). Between that noise and all the emails that need replies and the conversations with students and fellow teachers in the hallways—it’s exhausting. As most teachers also know, if you share your room with another teacher, it can be hard to find another—or any other—quiet place to work. Sometimes I’ll sit at the end of the hallway outside my room. The desk there doesn’t too much traffic, so it’s a good place to work (and the sun on my back doesn’t hurt either).
That said, this year, I’m lucky enough to have two free periods in my classroom. 7th period is probably my favorite time of day. I only have one class left, and unlike the morning when I’m busy prepping, the afternoon is my time to reflect, to sit behind my desk and just breathe a bit.
I keep coming back to what Deacon John said, that silence allows us to listen better. One of my favorite TED talks is on how to be better at conversation, and one of the key points was, not surprisingly, to listen. “Listen not to wait for your turn to speak,” the TED speaker argued, “but to really understand what the other person is saying.”
Silence allows us time to listen to the voice inside ourselves, the voice that’s usually drowned out by all the other stimuli competing for our attention. Silence facilitates reflection, the kind of reflection that seems rare these days. It’s no surprise, then, that some of my best ideas—my best lesson plans—often happen in the shower (I’m also a water sign, Pisces, so that probably has something to do with it, too).
And with three boys in the house—there is no such thing as “quiet.” Usually if things are quiet, it’s a sign that something is terribly wrong. Instead, a soundtrack of shouts and laughter, screaming and yelling, plays on a constant loop. I am Harrison Bergeron, unable to form a coherent thought with the ceaseless interruptions.
Maybe this is why I also get up an hour earlier than I have to, just to have that quiet time at 4:30 or 5 in the morning to catch up on my news feeds and read the unending list of articles I’ve bookmarked. The Japanese have a word for “leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books”—tsundoku. I wonder if they have an equivalent word for the tab after tab after tab of unread articles in my browser window.
Right now, it’s about 4:30 on this cold Friday afternoon. My club has already left for the day, and I usually can’t wait to get home and officially start the weekend—but I’m still here. The room is silent, save the tapping of keys and the quiet hum of an air vent in the corner.
I think I’ll linger a little longer.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.