Some scenes in the movie Driving Miss Daisy depicted a household so quiet that the ticking clock was the most prominent sound. I remember that sound from my grandmother’s house. It is not that her house was always quiet. When I was a very little boy her house was filled with the joyous sounds of cousins gathered for their annual vacation reunions, and it never occurred to me that without our presence things might be different. But later, as a teenager, I was stuck by the quiet. Entering grandma’s house was eerily quiet. The ticking of the mantle clock was the most prominent sound. Sometimes a radio would be playing, but softly. In the heat of the summer the whirring of a fan or two might be added, but that was about it. It seemed both sad and boring to me. I wondered how anyone could tolerate so much nothing. Even into my adult years I wondered about the strange silence in the homes of the elderly whom I might visit. Of course that excluded the Prescott’s whose deafness meant that we could hear their arguments and Lawrence Welk from two blocks away. But I digress. As I have begun my own evolution into the ranks of older people I’ve discovered something about the treasured value of silence.
There comes a time in every day when the sounds of radio, television, stereo or even human babbling do not provide entertainment, information or companionship but just noise. In the summer time quiet of our house, with all the windows open, the sounds of birds, breezes in the trees, scolding squirrels, falling rain and the ebb and flow of the neighborhood become spiritual gifts of life and delight. My mind becomes full of thoughts, both old and new, and the remembered presence of friends and loved ones with whom conversation has not yet ended though time, distance and even death have done their best to separate us. What to my grandchildren and godchildren might seem like unbearably boring silence is to me filled with sounds, voices and images of resonant richness.