“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire:
and after the fire, a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it,
that he wrapped his face in his mantle,
and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave.
And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said,
What doest thou here, Elijah?”
~ 1st Kings 19:11-13
Refuge, these days, has become entirely a state of mind. The most critical aspect resulting from the loss of my housing is the absence of physical sanctuary. Chased from our respective homes in the recently-sold apartment building, my neighbors and I suddenly had to find places to live. Some moved far away, most to various parts of this region, but all reluctantly. With employment in mind, precarious as that is, I’ve managed to stay in the city, yet at a heavy price and in an inhospitable place. Along with many of my fellow Maine workers, I’m an offer or a loss away from leaving the state. The grim reaper’s name is Gentrification, nipping at the heels of most of us, regardless of how industrious and loyal we’ve been. For the unwealthy, things are closing in. Looking around my tiny, temporary quarters, filled with boxed belongings, the closing-in is blatant and suffocating. There remains a great need for refuge, above the din of discomfort and anxiety- all the more when assurance continues to be out of range.
Silence, like music, is received and internalized uniquely by each individual. There is a silence beneath surfaces of desolation, of deprivation. There are also qualitative, nourishing silences which soothe the soul. The latter is obviously the sort of quiet that is welcomed and desired. I cherished this long before it became elusive- as it is now in the temporary space. Healthful quiet is a treasure; if you have this in your life, count it as a major blessing. Throughout the recent months, my search for a sense of peace has meant going outdoors to breathe and stretch- often closing my eyes and awaiting those measures of grace. I’ve noticed myself doing this at bus stops, as well as during the late hours after the stomping, thrashing, and television racket overhead finally gives out for the night. It’s a daily staggering for peace, as though on a frenetic and exitless highway. When my friends tell me how “this too shall pass,” my response is “when?” The search continues, to be sure, notwithstanding how consolation, peaceful living space, good job ops, and spare money are all equally scarce.
The constant and compulsive clatter reminds me that many people are afraid of silence. And just as many are unaware of the existence of others in their midst. Aspiring to be compassionate, it is essential to be forgiving of the inconsiderate. After all, somebody needs to be aware of the unaware. As this life is in preparation for eternity, here is the time and place to refine the ability to forbear. But as a flawed mortal who finds forbearance unbearable, I try distracting with noise-canceling headphones (which I can hear through), listening to music, running a household fan, and turning to a lifelong friend: radio. As with any means or instrument, it is for each listener to discern and discover that which suits. Due to all the noise in the building, I’m applying a dulcet layer of classical music to try masking the din of disturbance. My less passive form of listening happens when I seek out noteworthy programs and lectures. If the bulls-in-their-china-closet are too disruptive, especially when they rattle the walls, I’ll use earphones. Amidst the chaos, I’ve taken many inspiring notes from timely broadcasts. With all of this mentioned, when I sense a late night hour when the building falls silent, I’ve noticed how I turn the radio off- just to savour the silence. My shoulders and brow noticeably settle back. It’s the good silence.
The expression, radio silence, has migrated from its technical origin to popular parlance. A command to “go radio silent,” generally meant stopping any transmission due to security concerns about signal interception. This was also employed so that a weak distress signal might be detected. Whatever the case, radio silence is when no broadcast signal is transmitting. In our common discourse, one can remove themselves from interactions, or withhold specific information. If there is a receiving end awaiting a message, there is no signal- just air- and the listener is at a loss for knowledge. Radio silence then becomes a not-knowing. Turning up the sound only reveals static. One might as well switch off the radio, although doing so eliminates the possibility of picking up a signal later. Waiting and potential are intertwined concepts. Non-broadcast air space and static often follow housing and employment applications, often known as ghosting. Inquirers disclose personal information and credentials, and anticipate responses that never arrive. The passage of time accompanies the radio silence. Companies and landlords never worry about offending anyone; they seem to have all they need.
The luxury of enacting a broadcast silence of my own is an tempting idea, especially as I embark upon my 33rd straight month of being a one-man department at the pared-down workplace. It’s been an even longer time since it’s been possible to make the kind of monastic sojourn that I’d take twice a year. The pandemic era has comprised a marathon of work and workarounds for lots of us, but I’m very thankful to be working and managing my expenses. I’m always aware of those who are much worse off. Yet even with a sense of broader context in mind, the prospect of a healthful pause would be an oasis somewhere along the unknown way. This is among the topics of pondering while awaiting late buses in frigid, pelting weather. If only all the inflictions ceased, perhaps just long enough to not have to try being a perfect applicant, or with providential buffer space that is free from brutish situations. Or if things cannot stop, maybe they can noiselessly coast along like those fancy electric cars I’m seeing in the East End. The present experience emphasizes how contemplation needs the respite of quiet, or at least the ability to think above the din. Without the resources to create a large landscape, I can make small snapshots. Until substantial traveling becomes possible, there can be modest spans of reflection. Writing outdoors these days happens in colder weather, but I still make sure to intermittently set the pencil down and look skyward. If anything, doing this helps my perspective. Being attentively aperch is a shorthand regathering. Assiduousness is among my favorite words: rooted in the Latin assidere, it is to sit down by one’s attentive initiatives. Hardly the vacuum of radio silence.
The purgative passage of the soul into darkest night comes to mind in radio silence. There is a receiver that is scanning, attempting to tune for an elusive transmission. Indexing across all available bands, adjusting antennae and power supplies, no signal can be pulled in. The crepuscular radio silence of the spirit lends itself into questioning whether there is a signal at all. Temptation in the desert. Faith says there is a frequency, despite my flailing attempts. Atmospheric conditions can change to something more favorable, so it is critical to keep tuning and hold course. But the when is exasperatingly unknown. Too much time has been wasted. Waiting is anguishing; it is neither passive nor tranquil. A thread running through these times is surely the learning and testing of confident poise. Struggle is a necessary given. We are conditioned to reserve gratitude exclusively for times of success and goodness. The challenge is to maintain that vital resonant circuit in desolation, when there are no soothing broadcasts or music. Gratitude in the radio silence. As well, being a discerning listener means not adding any obstructions of my own.