headphones and silence.

Have you ever looked around at the massive number of people – perhaps you’re one of them; sometimes I am – walking around in this great beautiful world, insulated by those little pieces of plastic we call headphones?

Of what are we so afraid? Is it the silence inherent in loneliness? Is it that we might hear the plaintive cries of one of our fellow persons, and be forced to act? Are our headphones simply an attempt to avoid that which is unpleasant? After all, if I have my headphones on at the park, I can’t hear the two schoolgirls discussing their crackhead mom and her inability to stay sober. And I can’t take on at least a small fraction of the pain they’re feeling, as they spend hours at the park escaping the place they call ‘home’. And I don’t have to worry, days later, how they might be doing.

And if I have my headphones on while riding the bus to campus, I don’t have to hear the student fighting with her boyfriend. I don’t have to hear stories about drunk and high students and the drama that ensued Saturday night (and Sunday morning). I don’t have to be surrounded by the collapse of society – or at least, a microcosm of the world that seems to indicate a collapse of society.

But then again, with my headphones on…

I would never think to pray for the little girls at the park. And I wouldn’t have the opportunity to pray for their protection from the destructive forces around them.
   And I wouldn’t hear the other student on the bus, discussing the great plans she has to make the world a better place, with the other student who is encouraging and lifting her up, and being a true friend and supporter.
And I wouldn’t bother to say a cheery “thank you! same to you.” to the bus driver, because I wouldn’t hear him say “have a great day, Miss” as I walked away. And because I wouldn’t hear him say that, and I wouldn’t reply, I wouldn’t see the bright smile that came about as a result of just one of the many nameless faces that walk past every morning taking five seconds to acknowledge his presence.

Mother Theresa, in a long commentary on silence, said the following:

“In nature we find silence — the trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence. The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence.
Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere — in the closing of a door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals.”
(taken from “In The Heart of the World”, 2010)

And just a week ago, in his Wednesday address, Pope Benedict XVI said the following:

“Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order that this word may be heard. And this is especially difficult in our own day. In fact, ours is not an age which fosters recollection; indeed, at times one has the impression that people have a fear of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the barrage of words and images that mark and fill our days.
(excerpt taken from March 7, 2012 address to the Wednesday general audience; translation available at http://www.zenit.org/article-34420?l=english)

A challenge – one I have no right to issue, but do so anyway: contemplate. What are you avoiding, but even moreso, what are you missing? God speaks to us in silence, surely – but we innately tend to hide from that silence. Perhaps then, just perhaps, he is speaking to us in the voices around us. He has a habit of finding us where we are…

     Sidenote/correlary: while I was thinking about this, and starting to put together this post, the song “Headphones” by Jars of Clay came on my Pandora. I’ve never heard this song before. So there’s that. I post an excerpt of the lyrics here:

At the Tube Stop, you sit down across from me
(I can see you looking back at me)
I think I know you
By the sad eyes that I see
I want to tell you
(It’s a heavy world)
Everything will be okay
You wouldn’t hear it
(I don’t want to have to hear it)
So we go our separate ways
With our headphones on, with our headphones on…

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