I heard a story on the radio once– or perhaps on a podcast– of a man who decided to drive across the United States without listening to any music, talk radio, etc. Nada.
Anyone over the age of 50 (maybe even 40) is rolling their eyes right now. “Back in my day, no one even had radios– much less auxiliary cables–in their cars!”
By the way, shout out to anyone older than 40 who reads this blog written by a millennial, because you appreciate its important topics including but not limited to The Bachelor, zodiac signs, and inappropriate clothing trends. You’re the real MVPs. In 12 years from now, my goal is to be just as open as you are to emerging mediums of
soul-sucking communication like blogs and Snapchat.
Actually, to be fair, I think an essay blog (hi!) sucks way less of your soul than Snapchat. I’d even go as far as to say that I’m actively preserving the art of writing in a world that is quickly becoming engulfed by selfies and Pokemon Go. Did you know they don’t even teach cursive in school anymore? You better believe my future children will get some private cursive lessons from good ole Mom. They’ll fight me every step of the way, but I’ll be darned if their signature is in freaking print. Or worse– a stamp, or perhaps a chip in their wrist.
Now that I think about it, there’s a 90% chance that by the time I have kids who are old enough to need a signature, they’ll be cyborgs. BUT THEY’LL BE CYBORGS WHO CAN WRITE IN CURSIVE, you hear??
Wait, I’m sorry. I got sidetracked.
I heard a story once. About a man who drove across the country in silence.
The fact that I’m able to hold extended, focused conversations at all in life is a real mystery, and also a giant feat.
So, this guy. He decided to see what it’d be like to shut out all the noise that constantly floods our brains, and just sit with himself. No music. No talk shows. No phone calls. Just him and the sound of his car’s engine.
I don’t remember much about his findings, other than that after about 7 hours, he began to cry. For the first time in like, 10 years, he truly got in touch with himself. His fears, joys, sadness– all of it.
Silence scares most of us. We don’t think it does– in fact, we may claim to love silence. But very few of us ever make the effort to turn off all distractions. We might enjoy silence when we’re reading a book. Or silence when we’re writing a blog. Or silence when our kids are asleep in the back seat. But not silence in its entirety. No, utter silence just for the sake of it seems really daunting.
For the last 5 years, I pretty much ignored/forgot about this story of the man who drove in silence. Kind of like every time I turn off a podcast or leave church. The message was nice, but SQUIRREL!
I should work on that.
Recently, however, I started driving in silence, and was reminded of this story I heard so many years ago.
You see, my husband loves listening to NPR every morning on his way to work. I like listening to a mixture of talk and music in the morning– so I usually end up on the Bobby Bones Show. Not quite as informative as NPR, but Lunchbox and Amy make me laugh a lot, so I’m a fan. Plus, I’d be A-OK if I never heard the names “Hillary” or “Trump” ever again in my entire life.
When Aaron and I take road trips, we usually compromise. I love podcasts…but I can only take about 2 hours of someone talking to me before I want to bash my head into the windshield. Turn on some tunes!! Aaron, on the other hand, can listen to podcasts for 12 hours at a time. In fact, that’s what he does all day at work. The background noise at his desk isn’t music, it’s The Moth and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and Science Fridays and The Jefferson Hour.
So what if his base of knowledge is astronomically expansive in comparison to mine? I can sing all the words to every Sam Hunt song on the radio.
Ugh, now that I wrote that out, I do hate myself sometimes.
When we’re on road trips, Aaron and I listen to podcasts until I snap at him out of nowhere, at which time he realizes that I’m not actually mad that he didn’t put the Taco Bell wrapper in the correct trash bag, rather I’ve just reached my limit of podcasts and am taking it out on him by starting obscure arguments.
I’ve gotten better. Now I skip the passive aggression and just tell him that he needs to turn it off or die.
After awhile, though– and especially recently– I get tired of the music, too. Then I get frustrated and just flip off all the switches in a tissy fit.
Raise your hand if you’re jealous that Aaron gets to be around me all the time!!
Last week, after an episode of hate towards my car’s speakers, I realized something: I don’t actually have to listen to anything. If all the noise is stressing me out, perhaps we should just turn off the podcasts and music for hours at a time. Perhaps for days at a time. Like, before I get fed up with it all. What a concept!
On a recent 10 hour drive, I asked Aaron if we could try this tactic. Listen to 2-3 podcasts, then turn off absolutely everything for a few hours. Unsurprisingly, he happily complied, because Aaron’s the type of guy who can roll with pretty much any scenario. Including being married to me.
I didn’t insist that there be silence between the two of us once all the sound was off, but there was. For about 5 minutes. Until we started talking. I mean, really talking.
We debated whether or not the town in Denmark that has progressive attitudes of love and acceptance of their youth who return from fighting for ISIS is an example of how all communities should treat fragile young adults who made massive, lethal mistakes in their ideology, or if those kinds of people should never be forgiven, and always be “conquered.” Is it truly the lack of love and inclusion that drives these kids to become extremists, or is there an evil inside of them that can never be overcome by their hint of internal goodness?
We reflected on our marriage, asking more of each other in certain areas, and apologizing for our shortcomings. We got honest about life’s temptations, earnest in our plan to combat those temptations, and excited about the ways we’re sure to grow over the next 10, 20, 50 years.
We discussed racism. Is it truly a battle of skin color or a battle of culture?
We wondered about mental illness. Could we adopt a stranger with a mental illness to live in our home for decades at a time? Because that’s what the majority of people in Geel, Belgium do.
We talked about my blog, brainstorming ways I can keep from feeling stale and hopeless about the future.
We talked about the military, where it could lead us, and why Aaron loves to serve.
I learned so much about the way my husband thinks. I felt perfectly relaxed. I didn’t care about the constant need to be connected to the rest of the world by means of audio entertainment or social media.
Aaron and I already spend intentional time having meaningful conversations on [almost] a daily basis– before this road trip ever took place. We try to turn off the TV, look at each other, and engage. But there’s something about having those conversations in silence that is different than talking over a drink at a bar or while we’re cooking in the kitchen. Sometimes we chat before bed, but even then, we’re usually pretty tired, thus not entirely invested in the conversation.
Sitting on the couch or in the car, without noise, without music, without “doing” something, is special. If you’re alone, it gives you time to hang out with yourself. To let your mind wander. To be really sad. To be really happy. To be everything you can’t be when your brain and body are otherwise occupied. If you’re with another person, quiet air allows you to paint the space with unadulterated thoughts and questions, none of which are fighting with anything else for attention.
Get closer to yourself. Get closer to your loved ones. I can’t recommend enough the benefits of silence. The more you do it, the less scary it becomes to face whatever it is that creeps to the surface when not suppressed by all the noise. Society keeps trying to fill us up with more and more ways to “engage,” but it’s easy to forget that our minds and feelings are the most powerful tools to truly engage with life.