BaumgardnerSilence. The space between our words, devoid of noise or clutter. A hyphen, a comma or a period. Its purpose? A pause for breath and consideration.

A lack of noise, carrying the power of free thought.

I get the feeling that some people are afraid of silence. Maybe they think that if they stop talking, they’ll cease to exist. But they don’t understand that until you allow your world to be silent, you don’t really exist at all. You’re just adding to the cacophony, moving from scene to scene in a restless monologue that will take you nowhere.

If you can’t stop making noise, eventually you can no longer maintain a give-and-take relationship with your environment and you end up talking to yourself. Silence gives you a moment adrift, without evidence to pin it down. It shows you that you can think without proof of your thought.

I, too, suffer from a deep-seated need to put my thoughts into words as soon as I can get them out. It’s taken long hours spent in the dead of night, willing my restless brain to settle, for me to realize that only silence can overcome the chaos in my mind. Too much of the time, I don’t give my thoughts enough room to simply be.

I underwent an exercise in silence a couple weeks ago, for the first half of a bright Saturday, as I and 20 strangers sat together in a Lake Oswego High School classroom and took the SAT test. For four hours straight both my patience and sanity were tested.

The silence, even during breaks, was deafening. I could almost hear the other test-takers’ frantic inner monologues colliding with my own, like two-dozen radio stations coming through the same channel, buzzing with the static of nerves and the scratch of pencils.

It felt as though a live wire ran through the room, sparking some unfamiliar power into my mind. Once I got used to the idea, I found I could shut out my own frenzied thoughts and my mind sharpened down the point of a No. 2 pencil.

But the strangest effect of this silence occurred after the test. It was as if I’d had a taste of something, and I wanted more.

For the rest of that day, I worked outside in the yard with my family, and I allowed myself to be quiet. I didn’t force myself to write, read or watch anything and, at times, my thoughts wound themselves down to the usual stream of music that always runs through my consciousness.

For the rest of that day, I felt calm. And anyone who knows me well can tell you I’m not a very calm person. By nature, I’m a worrier, and I feel this pressure to keep up a relentless stream of words in my life.

In the past, I’ve equated silence with a waste of time. I couldn’t be more wrong. The breath between words is an empty space, true — but it’s not meaningless.

Maybe we’re afraid of the thoughts that will dare to show themselves if we give them room to do it. What unexpected things might happen if we allowed ourselves to fall, every once in a while, into the space between words?

Claire Baumgardner is a junior at West Linn High School. She is contributing a regular column to the Tidings this school year.

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