Watching the news of cases of COVID climbing in Italy and London, I imagined Lockdown (always with a capital L, as if it were a holiday) to be a time of quiet. There would be no slow hydraulic hiss of concertina-ring bus doors. There would be no put–put–put of the clapped-out moped. I would emerge, like Cillian Murphy – minus the chiselled cheekbones – to a silent city. No people. No noise. And it would be wonderful.
Citizens, confined to their homes, would be welcomed, not by fireworks and thunderclaps, but by silence.
All I ever wanted…
I have always loved silence, being alone in my own head. I was the kid at school who the teacher had said “…could carry on working through an earthquake.” I was the boy that preferred the library to the soccer pitch. I was (and still am) the one hiding out in the kitchen at parties, rather than holding court in a crowded lounge. I prefer to listen than to talk.
This has held me in good stead in my professional career. As an emergency room doctor, I have become adept at listening to other peoples stories. Ducking under trailing wires I sit next to the frightened young teenager and listen, through the noise, to what they are saying.
I listen, without interrupting, as they falter through their story, of how they have come to be in the department, of why they have taken the pills. And when it comes to the denouement – that part of the tale when they tell me why – I let the silence come knowing just how powerful it is. How it cannot be left alone.
Silence can be a powerful tool.
But bringing silence to the streets and the shopping centres has consequences. My home is now filled with noise. Once, I could spend my mornings enjoying a leisurely coffee, staring out of the window, just able to hear the school bell in the distance, calling children in from the monkey bars and climbing frames. Now, there is noise. There is chaos. I can still hear the bell, but now it just reminds us to log in for the next online class.
I crave the quiet – the peace – that dystopian day after movies promise, to allow me to think. Instead, my mind flits around like a hummingbird, barely able to get sustenance from one thought before it has time on to the next. It is not just my house that is noisy. It is my brain too.
All I ever needed…
or how I found the silence
ONE – Be present
When your days are run to somebody else’s timetable it is easy to feel resentful. The teachers who have set the homework have one agenda, and you children have another, and all you can do is make it through the day. If you start the day with the idea in your head that everything is going to be peaceful and calm, you will be sorely disappointed.
As the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus said, “Some things are up to us and others are not“.
It’s unfortunate that the more you stress about your need for silence in your external world then the less of it you will have in your internal one.
Stop! Don’t think about the future, about what you want to get done when homeschooling ends for the day. Be present. Remember that, to your children, time (and attention) is the currency of love.
TWO – Set boundaries
As a parent, it is easy to become slaves to the needs of one’s children. But remember, you need to have time for yourself. You need time for your own thoughts too. Time to read. Time to dream. Time to think.
Yes, you should be present for your kids, but without sacrificing your sanity.
“Of course we’ll play Monopoly. And after that you can have some screen time and Daddy can have some me-time. Is that okay?”
Let your young wards know that you have needs too.
THREE – Escape
How on earth do you think you are going to find some inner calm with one child shouting, “Can somebody please wipe my bottom?” and the other two arguing about whose turn it is to play Animal Crossing?
Make sure they are safe (and that toilet roll is within reach) then step away. Step outside, if you can.
FOUR – Listen for the noise
You’ve done your best not to fill your head with noise during the day. You’ve set aside some time, just for you, and you have stepped outside into the fresh air. There is still noise. There will always be noise. Now, it’s time to listen to it!
It seems counter-intuitive to listen in order to create silence. But rather than a cacophony of noise, just listen to one thing. Pick one sound out of the air – the rustle of the wind in the trees, the sound of cars on a distant highway – a listen.
As you pay attention to that one voice, that one sound, all of that extraneous noise will drop away. And then, as if the squall has died down, your thoughts will begin to settle, like dried autumn leaves. And silence will enter your mind at last.
FIVE – Enjoy
Martin Gore was right.
Words are very unneccessary
I sit outside. The noise from inside the house is somewhat muffled. It is white noise now, the shrill cries of the four-year-old too high to penetrate the glass. I stop trying to clear my head and instead listen. I hear the hum of next doors pool pump, the clanging of the wind chimes that have to come down if it gets too squally, a magpie in the tree at the end of the garden.
There is noise, but instead of hearing a barrage of sound assaulting my ears, I choose one song and listen. The pump, perhaps, this time? I listen. It hums rhythmically, somewhere over the fence. I cannot hear the other noises now, as I focus on this one thing, this one sound. I close my eyes – thrum – thrum – thrum.
And finally, my mind knows silence once more.