The Sound of Silence
The following was originally shared by Pastor John Fleming as a post of Facebook.
I thought I knew what those words meant. Today I discovered I was wrong. Way wrong.
In the past five weeks, I’ve driven through Moab, Utah, four times. It sorta killed my soul, though, because it wasn’t really possible to stop for any length of time. I can’t tell you how much it pains me to drive by the entrance to one of our National Parks without going in. By my count, I had done that 12 times since mid-December. There was a very brief foray into Arches for a photo op with my daughter, but nothing else.
Today, however, I took the afternoon to visit a corner of Canyonlands National Park—the Needles District—that had been on my must see list for almost a decade. I thought it might be risky, considering the potential for winter weather, but it was close to perfect.
And I had the Park almost literally to myself. I saw exactly three people, including one of the Park employees. The trail I had picked out was a tad beyond my skill set, but I scrambled up some rocks, found a comfortable spot, and sat down to drink in the view.
What I didn’t expect was the silence. I first noticed that when I shut the door of the car. It was SO loud, echoing off the canyon walls like a gunshot. After the second time, I started to close the doors as if I was sixteen years old again, sneaking out of the house. I didn’t want to disturb the rocks.
When I was very young, not long after we moved to Texas from Iowa, our family took a trip to the Texas Hill Country. I remember eating a Schlotzsky’s sandwich for the first time and tubing at Old Schlitterbahn. And I remember going to Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown. It was there that I experienced total darkness for the first time. Once we were sufficiently down under the surface, the guide told us he would be turning all the lights out and that we would be in total darkness. This was long before cellphones or even digital (let alone smart) watches. The darkness was palpable.
As I sat on a rock overlooking one of the thousands of canyons that drain into the Colorado river basin, I began to realize that I was experiencing total silence for the first time, in the same way I had long ago experienced total darkness. Not a sound—not a bird or a gust of wind. Absolutely nothing.
I drove to another viewpoint to watch the sunset. I looked across the canyon lands, realizing I was essentially looking at Grand Canyon on a two million year delay, except that this landscape was larger—2, 3, … 5 times?
It wasn’t difficult to understand why Native Americans hold such lands sacred, or what it must have been like for them to stand within them before Western men intruded, listening for the slightest sound.
Finally, as I stood watching the sun set, three hours removed from the ability to communicate with anyone outside earshot, the cell signal caught up with me. First it was a text message, then a phone call—a spam call, no less.
Solitude. Silence. I’ve never valued them more.
Pastor John Fleming