If you are of a certain vintage, and especially if you have frequented small musical venues in New England which tend to occupy stone or clapboard churches in seacoast towns, you may hear “hush, hush” in Aimee Mann’s voice. I mean it in a far less ethereal and poetic way.
There have been gaping interruptions in my writing here, and among my photographs and indeed everything else in my life, because for the first time I have had to refrain from writing about an event central to my day-to-day life for well over a year now, and I have found it nearly impossible to write my way around it in these cyber-pages.
I am going to find a way. Complete silence has never been for me, and a good hush is only initially hard to find.
I find myself holding my breath and hoping no human noise intrudes when I catch a glimpse of a butterfly or moth flickering through a lattice of leaves, or see a fledging cardinal or mourning dove’s black eyes peeking out from under a bush while considering whether to attempt to take flight. I do not want to frighten them. Only in surrounding silence, bereft of traffic and chattering sidewalk runners, do I hear the approach behind me of skittish downtown deer, or catch the swishing of a coyote in the distance, camouflaged by sand and seagrass at a nearby Wildlife Refuge.
I feel the serene hush as music is about to commence, and of its wordless initial notes. Yo-Yo Ma as he sits, eyes closed, about to play. My mind gifts me with the silence before Thaxted, from Jupiter, The Planets Suite, the one hymn I knew absolutely had to be played at my husband’s service. I could not have spoken afterwards had it not unlocked a new path to him when he was just four days’ and also forever not here.
I remember the more and less soothing spaces among words spoken by people no longer in my presence and no longer here. I still hear the way my husband’s quick mind would instantly produce a clever pun or bit of wordplay, and in the silences of every day I hear his soothing voice as he measured every serious word with such uncanny honesty and clarity. My father’s lengthening pauses as Parkinson’s robbed him gradually, but never even close to completely, of the brilliance of his theoretical physicist’s grasp of the silent unseen and he began perseverating about the concrete noises intruding within the room to which he became limited. My mother’s voice before a pandemic infection made it so tentative and sparse as she retreated into her own patches of silent memory, and we could only hope she found more peace there.
Two weeks ago, on another wedding anniversary as the spouse remaining in this world, I had the joy of being able to see both our best woman and best man. I was reminded that I not only hear their voices in my quiet world when they are not with me, but I can recreate conversations with them over decades and find much comfort and laughter there. I can even still hear their parents’ and siblings’ voices, and transport myself back to the less aching portions of growing up and of adult life which are forever leavened by true, enduring friendship.
There is also a variety of noiselessness that overwhelms all our senses. I have felt it when frozen in time, in shock just from the power of the words which preceded it (“This is your tumor….”). I have, more than once, sat dazed in a busy, noisy hospital cafeteria and heard absolutely nothing around me as indeterminate static filled my head.
But whenever I have been able to, I have taken in sublime views in the profound silence that lets me commune not only with quiet creatures and the anthropomorphic clouds in which I sometimes spot them, but with the beloved ghosts who accompany me everywhere.