Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Meditations on Silence

Jack Willis/The Hoya

In one of my earliest memories, I am at the park with my cousin. We climb far above where little kids should find themselves onto an awning overlooking a sea of taupe mulch.

“Jump,” she says. And I do, falling weightlessly through the air in a silence that I can still feel, even now. The next moment I can remember is ear-piercingly loud, as my discordant wails reverberate in the arms of my teacher. I soon returned to school with a blank new canvas wrapped around my arm, eagerly awaiting a mosaic of names to be scribbled onto it.

Many things have come in between these memories and the present — most of which I have long since forgotten — but this I know: I moved from preschool to kindergarten, got my first speeding ticket and signed up for a silent retreat in rural Virginia.

Perhaps if I brought my toddler self with me out here, he would run around in the quiet and clean air, arm held in a cast, shouting aloud those divine revelations that have come time and again to four-year-olds, begging to manifest themselves in words — on a plane, in a restaurant, sitting in church.

Though I am silent as I write now, I remain unconvinced that much has changed. I am still climbing plastic walls, sitting on grand ledges, embracing the thrill of leaping off and seeking solace after slamming into the ground.

Granted, the playgrounds I find myself summiting now look much different. I go to Lau at four in the morning and let my self-respect give way to a primal desire to finish the last page of an essay. I sit in class and mindlessly submit internship applications. I rush through a meal at Leo’s or a workout at Yates so I can get back to whatever other awaits.

But here, on a chilly February night in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my mind wanders to the vault of stars that cover the sky, and there is — at last — no other. Only the same constellations that the first humans saw hundreds of thousands of years ago; a starry night mirroring the ones that inspired the brushstrokes of van Gogh.

How rugged and wild, I think to myself, that I am but a dot in the same universe. Forgive me for so easily forgetting that I have slept under these same stars every night of my life.

Such things are, after all, often obscured here at Georgetown University, whether by the orange Washington, D.C. skyline or the fluorescent lighting of the library. In the silence here, I remember this and much more that so regularly slips my mind.

That each day is an adventure, for one. That when I drink coffee with milk, I think of my grandmother. That a wealth of knowledge lies at my fingertips because we are here, at Georgetown, surrounded not just by the chaos of a never-ending midterm season but by good and life-giving things that resound with ancient wisdom and resonate in modern ears.

Of course, that can be found in rich, wonderful noise: over a lively dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in far too long, or in an engaging lecture that captivates you in a way you just can’t quite explain. It can always be found too, though, in silence. When we put our laptops down and meander through the winding shelves of Lau in the middle of the night, filled with miles of books, or when we wake up a few minutes early to sit on the front lawn or in Dahlgren Chapel.

As twenty retreatants, including myself, heard this past weekend at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, reflections in silence uniquely equip each of us to harvest the tools that allow us to live our lives authentically. Pockets of quietness — on the bus, walking to class or eating breakfast — are opportunities to let reflective thoughts enrich our days, even if just for a moment. 

Through the stillness offered at the retreat, I looked many places: inward, at myself; outward, at nature. At the swaying trees reminiscent of a line of students waiting for coffee, and at the bushy-tailed squirrels whose scampering sounded like the ruffles of books shuffling in the time before class begins.

In this, I am reminded of a poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th-century Jesuit, and shared by Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., the director of Campus Ministry, at the retreat. I have parsed together several different lines.

“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same.

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

There, in those moments, echoes reverberated of the same community, enriched by individuality, which brings so many together on the Hilltop. To hear such things, you often must hear nothing else at all. It was this I first learned on a playground 15 years ago and once again gazing at stars and sycamores.

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