A bit less than a month ago, I had surgery on my vocal cords to remove a polyp. Following surgery, I was on voice rest for a week: no speaking, no sounds were to come from my mouth for seven days. I abided by the rules as best I could. In all, I’d estimate only a dozen phrases passed my lips over those seven days. But for the most part, I held my silence.
A notepad and pen became my form of communication: cumbersome, delayed, lacking tone and inflection.
Phone calls became others’ monologues starting with, “I know you can’t talk, but I just wanted to…”
I went to a wedding. A woman asked me if I could eat normal food as I oddly struggled to bite into a piece of coconut friend shrimp. Half of it slipped out of my mouth and slid down my shirt. My wife answered for me: “Yes, it’s just his vocal cords. It’s not his food pipe.” I couldn’t even laugh at myself.
I started a new job. At orientation, my principal came by to discuss health paperwork that I needed to get in. I started to scribble on my notepad. Then another question came, and another. I put the notepad down and used my voice. The vibrations rung through my neck and into my jaws. Is this what it’s like to speak? I thought.
My wife carried my daughter downstairs on a Saturday morning at 6am. “Hat! You’re awa—!” and I cut off my last word, aware of my voice spilling noise into the world, but wanting it so badly to do so.
Though I did not achieve perfect silence, I felt something close. It was difficult, and at some points, it set me apart from those I love most: a visceral and brutal separation. But I also found a grace in the quiet eruption of silence into my life: it cooled my frustrations, slowed my perceptions, held a mirror to my thoughts.
So perhaps we are meant to be more silent than we are. Perhaps we should see silence not as nothing, but as the womb of something—the birthplace of everything. And if we do, perhaps we’ll stop stuffing it with filler, forcing it to bear the fruit of endless material consumption, constant stress, and meaningless suffering. Perhaps we’ll start investing that holy silence with something greater: creativity, awareness, contemplation, and above all else, love.