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Savouring the sounds of silence

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There is no place, in this city, I can go where I don’t hear some persistent sound.


There is always a motor running somewhere. The computer hums, the fridge cycles on and off, the microwave bell reminds us something’s ready, the florescent lights overhead buzz, the printer sits ready to move into copy mode, the alarm clock radio goes on, the phone rings. Don’t get me started on the traffic noise outside.


I cannot enjoy my walk down the shady street because of the 144 motors roaring by me every 15 minutes. Vehicular traffic makes an obscene noise if you stop to listen to the cumulative sound it produces. I long for the days when I could ride my bicycle in places of quiet safety.


In Manitoba, I did hear the sound of silence — once. It was in the 1980s when I was a member of an instrumental trio that was performing for the first Grade 9 graduating class of Island Lake School, located in an aboriginal community north of Lake Winnipeg.


The children of Island Lake come to school by boat in spring and fall and by snowmobile during the winter. There are no cars there, or at least there were none then. I was staying the night with one of the school teachers.


Her home was quiet. No television, no appliances buzzing, no outside traffic noises; nothing to break the stillness of the morning or evening. I was almost uncomfortable. I was reminded of the time before our family could afford many "comforts" or household "conveniences." At that time I cooked and stirred with egg beater and wooden spoon. This did not waken the sleeping baby. I did not have a Moulinex then.


Another child helped me wax and polish the wooden floor by sitting on a weighted contraption, the size of a large brick, under which we had put a large-sized polishing rag. The child sat on the "polisher" and I pulled the child and the "waxer" along by the broom-like handle of the "polisher." We gave a beautiful shine to the floor. The only sound was the quiet enjoyment of the ride.


Again the sleeping baby was not awakened by a motorized floor polisher.


Is it possible in the city to hear the sound of silence? Is it possible to hear a "still, small voice" nowadays?


"Rests are the nicest part of the music," said Martin Schroeder, our music teacher.


We, of course, were insulted by this statement, after having sung the notes so well. How could a spot of silence be the best part of the music?


I now realize silence can help make a speech, sermon or reading very effective.


The three dots one sometimes sees in a story are there for a purpose. Time to think...I think.


What would happen if every speaker used silence — to give pause for reflection or insight into the meaning behind the words?


Would our shopping habits change if we arrived at a shopping center, and there were certain stores that had no elevator music? Would Christmas shopping have a new meaning if there were no carols, or jingles in the background?


Are we afraid of absolute silence?


Do I need to exchange the comforts of the city to find silence in some unsettled country spot?


Bertha Klassen is a North Kildonan-based writer.


Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Herald area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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