I've been thinking about silence lately—an odd topic for me, a talker who blasts Maroon 5 and Rihanna on my iPod.
In certain contexts, silence is horrible. When we need to speak up, figuratively or literally, silence can be dangerous, a lesson we've been taught time and again throughout Jewish history.
But at other times, silence has power.
Last Friday night, I went to services and stood in silence for the Amidah, Judaism's central prayer. I thought about the power of the silent prayer, even as my mind wandered from the text on the page. The Amidah—a few quiet moments—are a time set aside for a dialogue between us and God about any topic we want without saying a word. Jewish tradition tells us that God can hear us in our silence.
Later that same weekend, I saw the Academy Award nominated movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, based on a Jonathan Safran Foer novel of the same name. The film chronicles a boy named Oskar searching for one last message from his father, who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. On Oskar's journey, he encounters an old man whose name we don't know. The man never utters a word, but communicates with the boy by writing with Sharpie on a notepad. Even in the silence, or maybe in part because of it, the man connects with Oskar in a way no one has since his father's death. "He didn't say a word," the boy says, "but for the first time since my father died, I felt like I could really talk to someone."
Also up for Best Picture this year is The Artist, the first silent move made since 1929, about a silent film star who fears his star is falling as the silent movie era gives way to the talkies. Here again, the story captivates us with no need for dialogue.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a yoga class, something I don't usually do. What surprised me was how much I liked it. Mind you, I took the class on a beach during a tropical getaway, which probably had a lot to do with my enjoyment, but still. In the past, I figured I was too kinetic of a person to strike minute-long poses and meditate for a whole hour. But now I've discovered that it's people like me—and probably many of you too—who could benefit most from an hour of quieting the stresses and noise of our daily lives. Yoga ends with the savasana, or "corpse pose," where you quietly lie on your back, close your eyes, and breathe deep, a practice intended to rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. Once again, on that beach, where the only noise was the crashing of the waves, there was power in the silence.
In our relationships too, there is something beautiful about silence at certain times. In a close bond between friends, significant others, or family, it's comforting when you can get to a place with another person where there's still a lot to say to each other, but not always a need to say it.
And, when we're having a conversation with someone, and we're truly listening to what the other person is saying, we're not always waiting to fill the silences with a response, but are just there to listen.