The power of silence

Abby Jones finds something excitingly novel in an uprooted routine

Hockney tree painting
One of a series of iPad paintings by David Hockney from lockdown at his house in Normandy that he has shared for us all to enjoy at this difficult time

It’s strange, waking up to the prospect of what could be a silent day. Before, the morning held the words of The Metro, the overheard arguments on the bus, children on the way to school asking questions that bounce off their parents’ ears. It held Boris, the voice of Brexit, the “Hello”s and the “How was your evening?” on your welcome to work. It held the boil of the kettle that isn’t yours.

Now, the day can be silent. Or it can be filled with sounds and words, as we choose. And in this strange time, I have found that I have come to recognise and appreciate the little things that otherwise would have slipped past me. I have learnt the privilege of change, and the quiet that has come with it. I am sure for a lot of people, particularly parents (as their children ask them about trigonometry), this will not necessarily ring true, but this is my experience of finding something excitingly novel, in an uprooted routine.

On my 18th birthday, my mum gave me a Roberts radio. I asked her if she could take it back and I could keep the money to buy cider instead. She glared at me, ripped up the receipt and we never spoke of it again. Only now, in the time of working from home, have I realised its power. I am glad she ripped up that receipt (although, to be honest, it is still a fairly even toss-up between cider and a radio), because this little radio has become my best bud, and portal to the world. I take it around with me everywhere, tucked under my arm as I knead my sourdough, sing happy birthday to myself, or ask Google how to use up the ridiculous amount of potatoes I panic-bought two weeks ago. How does one make a hash brown?

Beyond the sound of the radio, I have also learnt to appreciate the daytime. To be able to go out into it without being confronted by a busy high street, is liberating. This week, I have been running every day to my local park. I see the London skyline, where the Shard is reassuringly still there, still standing strong. I watch the progress of the pair of swans who have, in the last week, made their nest and laid two beaming white eggs. Sometimes I hear an unplaced woodpecker, and at dusk, I can watch the stark trees become clothed in the tropic green of a hundred parakeets, as they bed down to sleep.

On Thursday evening, I hung out of my window, and clapped into the dark for the NHS with the rest of my street. The lack of words, but togetherness of gratitude, is something I have never experienced before. We said thank you, without words.

I am sure that for many people at the moment, the prospect of silence is uncertainty, but I hope that we can all learn to find some place in it, as we wade through this strange time. The power of the email, of Facetime, of Zoom, all mean that we will never truly be alone, and we can come together to communicate, and to make noise. But remember to absorb the good silence too. The silence that lets you get to the woodpecker, the hello on the street, the nod of your neighbour, the calm of the namaste to yourself, the call for volunteers, and the best kind of silent power, that of the written word. For now, dust off your shelves, go old school, get yourself a good helping of Dickens, and try, where you can, to enjoy the power of the silence.