It is an expression kids use these days whenever the conversation takes a longer than expected pause. Everyone laughs and the conversation resumes as normal. Who can blame them for jumpstarting the banter? They've probably never had a true moment of silence in their lives. Even here in rural America things increasingly go 24 hours a day.
There are some times that silence is perfectly fine, like when taking a walk or relaxing. A pair of headphones adds nothing to the experience. I was going to be a curmudgeon and write this week's column about that. Ever the true introvert, I was going to lay out my case that silence isn't awkward, it's wonderful and refreshing. The problem is, the more I thought about it, I realized that young people are right. Silence is awkward.
Our atmosphere is clogged with the noise of our culture: chat, politics, love songs, drama, news, elevator music, opinion, sales pitches and nonsense. It provides an exciting soundtrack that confuses movement with progress. Yet movement and progress aren't necessarily synonymous. A period of silence draws that distinction out and makes it apparent. The noise of our culture chirps along with every word except the one that really matters: "Why?" The question is only drawn out, ever so slowly, by the silence.
Like a mother gently cradling her babe, the silence sometimes makes apparent how much we are at peace (despite our squawking). Other times the silence strips away our pretence and defense mechanisms and forces us to perceive life with a frightening clarity. Silence shows us where we're strong. Silence shows us where we're weak. It shows us where we've become dull and need sharpening. Silence can send us frantically searching for the noise of distraction or it can strengthen our resolve for a new way of living.
Silence reminds us that we are but novices at life and must be open to change. And that's a pretty awkward feeling.
Ian Eastman, M.A., is a community educator at Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.