Comfortable Silence

Recently, I came across some essays I had written a few years back. These stories were mostly autobiographical, tales of personal observations and proclamations of personal beliefs. As I read over them, I remembered how quickly my hands had worked to tell these stories, eager to share them with an audience as quickly as I could. They were incredibly important to me, and still are. But part of growing older, at least my growing older, is finding as much value in the unshared as I do in the shared.

I believe in sharing, and I admire the outspoken. But I have also developed a deep respect for and desire to emulate the quiet. Quietness is not to be confused with lack of an opinion, lack of confidence in asserting that opinion, or lack of the eloquence required to powerfully and convincingly state the opinion. Sometimes—actually, most times—it is harder to keep quiet than to say something, especially for someone like me, who, I see in retrospect, has always felt an excessive need to give a perfect response to everything. I think I am growing out of it, but it is still something I have to remind myself is not always necessary.

This need has manifested itself in numerous ways over the years. If someone, for example, makes a comment in a group setting and it goes verbally unacknowledged, I feel an immense pressure to fill the silence with sound, often giving an insincere or thoughtless response. Other times, when a friend confides in me with bad news, I immediately begin to craft the most eloquent, inspirational speech possible, rambling on and on until I forget that an actual person exists at the other end of my self-indulgent monologue. As part of group gatherings, I can hardly sit there without devising a clever remark to make before the opportunity even presents itself, and eventually end up saying something I regret for the sake of entertaining the crowd.

I have always had to say something—nothe best thing—and that, unfortunately, has made me both a poor listener and an oversharer.

This self-observation is one of many others I have made about what I say and how I say it, which seem to be the themes of my more recent self-discovery. It has not all been pleasant, this unearthing of yet another personal flaw, but being able to put a finger on something I am not very good at is liberating in its own way.

It is still not fully easy to determine when my input is useful and necessary or when my silent and undivided attention is crucial. I err on the side of caution now, which means that most of the time I will just listen, making understanding a priority rather than being a good talker. By carefully considering both what I say and do not say, I can benefit not just my listener, but myself. After all, my introspections are pieces of me, and I should not have to throw parts of myself around like party favors to be part of a conversation. Silence is not always exciting, but I have found there is plenty of space to make a home in it.

By nature, I talk a lot. I like to have the last word in arguments, and pride myself on telling the best stories. I find it hard to know when to stop once I start talking about how I feel. I am, however, finding incredible worth and beauty in thinking and feeling without any of it being seen or heard. Some things belong to me and nobody else. When I have both the capacity and self-awareness needed to share my mind and heart with others, I think the sharing will have much more meaning; but I hope to never stop making time for writing without publishing, making music without recording, processing without requiring a listener, because it is in those moments, unbeknownst to others, that you meet yourself, completely and exactly as you are.