Many of them grew up either on farms or in small towns. I imagine their days were dominated by the sounds of chirping birds and domesticated animals and the rustling of leaves by the wind, rain and whatever else Mother Nature saw fit to throw their way. The sounds of commerce likely included grunts of hard-working men wielding the simple tools of the day or transactions conducted in the favored manner of the day – face-to-face.
At night, once the labors of the day were finished, I can imagine my ancestors settling into a silence unknown to most of us today. Surely they talked, socialized with friends and neighbors, played games, read and made music, but my great-great-grandfather never had a telephone, motor vehicle, electricity or indoor plumbing. Think of how each of these contributes to the background noise of our lives today.
Modern life is an enemy of silence. Most of us can’t stand to be away from noise. We take our cell phones, laptops and iPods with us everywhere, giving us the capability of warding off silence with a few finger strokes. Not that it’s really necessary, given the steady aural stream that engulfs us.
Don’t believe it? Try this test. Sit in a “quiet place” for 15 minutes, filtering out the sounds around you and concentrating on being still. It’s not easy. Your quiet place may not be as quiet as you thought. You’ll probably get restless before the 15 minutes are up.
You can decide for yourself whether silence is a virtue. After all, it was our ancestors that built our noisy world of today, generation-by-generation.
Photo: Emeranda and Elmore Breckenridge in quieter times.