Quietness is not what it was.
There are memories of childhood times in Somerset when there was perfect silence. The countryside around seemed always at its quietest on sultry afternoons in late August; the occasional sound had to struggle to break through the heavy air that threatened globular raindrops and claps of thunder. The occasional sounds were occasional; a tractor heading for fields, cows anticipating the evening milking, the odd car heading homeward in the late afternoon. Between the interruptions, the silence was profound. There was time to hear bees and crickets and distant birdsong, breaths of breezes so light that leaves showed only the slightest rustle. Inside the house, cut off from the natural noise, the silence was complete.
Such silences seem now to be elusive, even in rural areas. Tractors and farm machinery are powerfully engined and register their presence; villages are populated by those who commute to their daily work, depending upon cars for transport; the demands of 21st Century lifestyles necessitate electricity supplies that hums through cables and transformers. People surround themselves with sound; pass open windows and the voices of radio and daytime television fill the air. Silence has become terrifying to people, the ubiquitous iPod testifying to an urge to be enclosed in noise, to banish any prospect of quietness. The constant tones of mobile phones, the arrival of texts and the answering of calls, excluding any danger of isolation.
Possibilities of silence are becoming rare. Even churches, once places where there might have been a chance of silent reflection, seem to feel a compulsion to fill ancient space with technology and volume, crowding out any space there might have been for introspection.
There seems almost a fear of noiselessness. Public spaces are filled with muzak. Even doctor’s waiting rooms, places where an absence of noise would seem desirable, seem to be considered incomplete without CD music or radio programmes.
Are we afraid of something, afraid that if there is silence we shall find ourselves lost, unable to cope with there being nothing except our own thoughts? What has happened to our capacity to be quiet, to reflect, to think? Losing the chance of silence, moments when there is nothing to do other than face ourselves, there is more than just the loss of quietness, there is the loss of something of our inner self, the loss of something of our personal independence.
Without quietness, life is not what it might be.