January 24, 2018

Everything is quiet and nothing is silent

Late last night, after everyone had gone to bed (including the cat), I sat on the couch, in the darkness but for a few candles, and tried to embrace the stillness around me.

There is no such thing as absolute silence in this house, or anywhere, really. Even with nobody moving or making a sound, I could still hear the faint hum of the refrigerator, the slight rattle of the gentle breeze against the window pane, the almost imperceptible breaths of the cat on the couch next to me. The house is quiet, the world can become quiet, but it is never silent.

Last week, we were lucky to attend a performance of Silence, written by Trina Davies and directed by Peter Hinton, at the Grand Theatre. The play tells a story that we all should know but so few of us actually do: the story of Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, a remarkable woman who was deaf, and who went on to marry Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. It was a mesmerizing performance not just because of its content and its inventive staging, but because it brought to light a fascinating dichotomy: that of a man who devoted his life to being able to transmit sound, and a woman, his wife, who could not hear any of those sounds that were being transmitted.

More than that, though, Silence made me think about how I experience the world through my ears; every single situation and circumstance I encounter is mediated through sound, even if sound may not be the primary sense I use in that particular experience. In fact, it is impossible to escape sound, as I so aptly remembered last night. The aural landscape—sometimes ignored and unnoticed—is inescapable to those of us who can hear.

What would it mean for the world to be truly silent? I don’t know if I have the capacity to understand it, to be honest. Even in Silence, when we experience the perspective of Mabel when she is not reading the lips of others, the dialogue is replaced by a loud, pervasive hum, rather than a complete quiet; even the absence of any auditory stimulus has to be conveyed through sound.

If anything, watching Silence has reminded me to be more conscious of the sounds around me and how they shape my perception of the world. Over the past few days, I have been noticing this aural environment more and more, and paying attention to how the hidden sounds affect me and my experiences.

Even by night, when all is still and quiet, my world is not silent. For that, I am thankful, and will be more appreciative of the tapestry of the sound that envelops me every day.