In step, the three of them moved forward single file. First the dog, then humans. They walked unhurriedly, except for the dog who seemed to think a danger-squirrel hid around each bend. The trees and bushes almost formed a canopy over their heads; the plants incubated the trail, allowing the path to stay muddy though it hadn’t rained in a few days. The breeze was cool but couldn’t penetrate the thicket, so the air felt heavy. Flies climbed and fell lazily. Pond algae seemed to stick in the atmosphere even as it rested on the water. Maybe tiny, invisible spores clouded the space around them. Still, the walk felt invigorating, as though newness had more to say than decay. As though wonder could shout down resignation. As though joy might speak louder than pain.

The movie Silence opens on a dark screen, with no words or images. The only sound heard is a quiet buzz of insects, and steadily that quiet buzz grows louder and louder until it’s a roar, a real cacophony. Abruptly, the title of the film shows on the screen in white letters, and the insects’ noise cuts off, as though a conductor has sliced a baton through the air. The title, hovers on the screen for five seconds or so, before the first image appears. It’s quiet. We can only hear the wind.

Silence reflects on suffering, on pain, on faith, on conviction. But it’s also a story about what we hear, when we hear it, and how we respond to what we have heard. Or it’s a story about what we don’t hear and the turmoil or steady focus that can come from silence, from the absence of hearing things—things like the voice of God, or a voice that says everything will be okay, or anything.

Mosquito larvae covered the lake in the morning, and a thick fog blanketed the beach. The world felt muffled and unclear. A person could stand on the dock or float in the water, up to the neck, and watch as new mosquitoes broke from their husks and flew off to feed. But by noon, the sun broke through, the fog dissolved, and the mosquitoes stayed (mostly) away. The lake, though, remained calm and quiet: no boats, no personal watercrafts, no noises, and a crispness edging toward clarity. The cottage where they stayed connected to the lakeshore via a long grassy hill and a sandy, pristine beach. The family, eight of them, played together on the lakefront in the lucid afternoon, making sound on a quiet day—splashes and laughs and voices and toys.

There are moments when silence is not the absence of sound. Instead, in those moments, silence is the space, the stillness, where the sound is heard.

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