A Deep Silence Beckons

I’ve been deaf since birth but have been able to make my way in the world of the hearing well enough, with the help of braille, sign language, and the always improving technology for translating spoken speech into printed text.

Of course, I miss a lot and there are experiences I can only represent with analogies woven from the senses that remain active for me. I sometimes feel that having to represent a missing sense (for me hearing, but for others sight) in terms of my experience of the world through other senses, actually increases my awareness of that wholeness.

The few times I have expressed that view to others, if they are themselves able to hear, they are likely to bring up music. I am very interested in what music is for the hearing and wonder whether I am able to experience the quality they find in it, which they praise with words such as celestial, moving, heart-warming, and exciting; or which they claim is beyond logic and language and objective reality.

Since I also experience these kinds of responses to what my own senses sense and in my appreciation for the fact of being alive, I am not especially troubled by the fact that I can’t hear the sound of a piano or the harmonies and rhythms of a symphony. I believe my experience includes harmonic fullness when I am sitting by a lake, beneath a birch tree that is bending in a strong wind, so that each leaf is spinning in the air and light alongside all the other spinning leaves, all of them singing along in counterpoint with the small whitecaps rolling onto the shore. I believe that I know the sound of a piano playing up and down the keyboard in chords and runs, when I watch geese landing one after another on a still lake at dawn.

There is one quality referred to with especial appreciation by the most sensitive and spiritual among the hearing, when they speak of what they consider to be the source and finest expression of music. For my part, I sometimes visualize an underground stream welling up in a hollow high in the mountains before making its way down the mountain side into a larger and larger stream, as other springs welling up next to other rock faces join and add their spirit to the swelling current. Of course, I am now drawing upon my sense of sight, my delight in taking a walk in the mountains, and the freedom to notice what is around me and in me. Such comparisons help me to not feel deprived by my inability to hear a melody that a concert pianist lets loose into a concert hall, like a flock of birds rising as one from the branches of a ponderosa pine as night approaches. I capture some of that melody by watching the pianist and looking at the faces in the audience as they sit in stillness, wrapped in silent awe.

‘Silence’ is the quality that my spiritual and sensitive friends most often invoke when they are reaching for the depth of engagement they feel while listening to a piece of music; when they have been transported beyond their capacity to describe this experience to anyone else. But I have noticed that others, listening to their attempt to describe their ineffable experience, will nod when that word, ‘silence’, is used to describe something not of this visible world; as if an underground spring has appeared on a mountainside, sparkling and dancing in the sunlight.

Poets sometimes touch down in a silence that underlies what their words cannot capture. This resonates with my own experience of what moves me and carries me above and beyond the fenced-in confines of my usual responses to life. And something else. Perhaps this is a corollary to a poet’s use of language, and in their awareness that silence underlies and springs forth in their most honest and heartfelt expressions: silence is not an absence but a presence.

This presence rings out with greater power than the sounds I cannot hear.

When I hear it said that a silent presence is heard in the sound of a violin, the pealing of bell, or a child’s cry of delight, I understand this silence as deeply as anything I experience or anything I don’t experience.

If I knew that I would never hear that silence again, I would grieve more deeply than I have ever grieved for the music it is said that silence brings into this world. I have heard this silence singing in the throats of those who watch what they most love passing unheralded from this world.

3 comments to “A Deep Silence Beckons”
  1. Michael, I had no idea that you were deaf!!!! You seemed to hear me and others fine in the writers’ group and elsewhere. what am I missing?

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