No matter where I seek it, I cannot find it. Silence. The absence of sound. There was a time when I could find it. But no more. Not since my heartbeat, with its drumbeat in my ears, began interrupting my peace. For months and months, I’ve heard my heart beat. Perhaps it’s a matter of wax in my inner ear transmitting the vibration from each beat of my heart to the tiny bones in my ear that manifest as sound. Or it could be something else. I don’t know. But I do know it is beginning to drive me crazy. It’s on my list of things to address with my primary care doctor when I go in for an appointment in March. If I don’t lose my mind before then. If I don’t stab an ice-pick in each ear before then, trying to put an end to the pounding, pounding, pounding in my ears. I doubt I’ll do that. An ice-pick in my ear sounds painful. On the other hand, the absence of sound “sounds” delightful. Silence. The absence of noise. The absence of sound. The absence of aural interruption.

The constancy of noise is not new. I’ve noticed it for months, if not years. I’ve wished I could flip a switch to turn off the sound of my heartbeat, my breathing, the sounds made by my body when I move my neck. I detect noise even when I blink. My upper eyelids slam against their lower counterparts, creating tiny explosions of noise that I feel and hear. I wonder whether I am alone in noticing the cacophony or whether others, like me, are embarrassed and afraid to admit to hearing those noises because…we might be judged out of our minds. I suppose we are. I suppose we are dangers to ourselves, what with talk of stabbing ice-picks in our ears to silence to sounds of our heartbeats. Only madness can prompt such thoughts. Or, perhaps, incessant noise.

Silence would be frightening now, I think. It would seem utterly at odds with normalcy. Silence, now, would seem sinister, as if all the attention of the world were directed at me, with no distractions. Maybe noise is like a protective blanket made of horsehair. It keeps us warm but, at the same time, it irritates the skin with a painful, ever-present reminder that warmth comes with a price.

On the one hand, sound is precious. I wrote recently about the sound a guitarist’s fingers scraping against the strings makes. But even that sound, if ever-present, can be maddening. Sound needs its absence, if sound is to be valuable and beautiful. If sound is ever-present, it becomes a fiendish enemy bent on driving molten spikes into one’s brain. And, then, when the spikes quench in cold water, the sound of  steam and boiling water give way to the cracks of shrinking metal and, finally, silence. Silence. Beautiful silence.

Quiet is serene. Quiet is calm. Quiet is relaxing. Yet quiet is impossible to find. It escapes into the loud screeches of huge black birds and the rumble of trucks rolling up and down the street outside my window. It disappears into the thump-thump-thump of my heartbeat. It withdraws into the hum of refrigerators and computers and the buzz in my ears that sounds like layer upon layer of the noises made by crickets. Silence is imaginary. Quiet is a supernatural tale, just a fable with no basis in reality. Silence doesn’t exist.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Silence

  1. bev wigney says:

    I hear a lot of noise in my head — mostly as sort of glockenspiel that is in time with my pulse. I’ve had it for years. My dad had Meniere;s disease, and I’ve probably got it as well — a lot of noises in my ears although it feels more like in my head – and occasional vertigo. Pretty damned annoying, but oddly, I don’t think of it all that much — just sometimes when it is particularly loud. It’s loud today, in fact. Sort of a whiny sound a bit like the buzz-saw whine of a cicada going on in my right ear while the glockenspiel surges and ebbs in my head.

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