Friday, January 13, 2006

The Sound of Silence

We are going to Gatlinburg at the end of the month. Last year we went for our anniversary and this year, well we are having to take the kids. Not exactly the kind of anniversary I expected, but I find that I really don't mind sharing it with them this year. I really only have one expectation for this trip, aside from seeing the mountains of course.

Last year we went to Cades Cove while we were there. I'd never been there before and had no real excitement over it, but that visit there has become one of the treasures I have locked away in my soul. I learned, after the fact, that for the majority of the year, the place is packed with cars and people. When I heard that I considered myself quite lucky that our anniversary is in January. Were it not for that fact, I would probably have never found the gem there that I hold so dear. You see, due to that fact, Cades Cove was almost completely empty. I think there may have been 5 other cars in the whole area.

Before the Smokies Nat'l Park came along, there were homes and churches scattered around. I'm not sure if the people sold their land to the park or if the Gov't declared immenent domain, but the homesteads, many of which were there during the civil war, are abandoned. Even though it is sad to think about anyone losing their home, the park has been prudent to take care of the buildings and keep them intact.

It is beautiful. There are deer and other wildlife everywhere. In fact, the deer walked to within 10 ft. of us before becoming skittish and bounding away. There are several side roads back into the woods where you can see various homes, mills, cemetaries, and churches. Each so far apart they seemed isolated.

It was cold the day we visited there and since we got a late start there, we didn't stay long. But there is one thing that has haunted, no, obsessed me since we were there and compels me to return. We stood in a church cemetary about a mile off the beaten bath. As I stood reading some of the markers it dawned on me that I was experiencing something I never had before-SILENCE. Most of us don't even know what that sounds like. Even I didn't till that day.

I mean REAL silence. So utterly complete and profound that it nearly brought me to tears. As I started to file out each normal sound that fades into the background of everyday, I became more and more aware of it. I realized that the things I hear all the time, but don't really hear, were not there. No distant sound of people, cars, no trains, no airplanes...! Then I began to realize that other sounds, natural sounds that I would expect, were not there as well. I had to mentally check things off before I fully understood that this was truly SILENCE. No sound of sound of wind in the sounds of birds...not even the rustle of leaves! Later I wondered that I did not feel fear, standing in a graveyard as I was. No, fear was no where around, but unnerving in in that I was completely absorbed by the sound. I was enthralled by the fact that SILENCE HAS A SOUND! And it is DEAFENING! My thoughts rushed to fill the void and at the same time I was fighting to quiet them all so I could just listen. It was breathtaking. It was fleeting but I was so caught up in it that I was not aware of the passage of time until the silence was broken by my impatient husband. He was ready to go. I felt as thought I had taken flight and made the journey of a lifetime in the space of a few short moments. In a way, I was ready to leave too, but yet I so wanted to stay. I felt a grief about making such a profound discovery and having to leave it behind. This was not just silence, but it was peace. I shushed my husband and breathed in one last breath of it, hoping to hold on to that memory. I knew he would not understand enough to get him to stay and though I vowed within myself to return to that place, I feared I never would.

From that moment, I had a new perspective on the Cove. Every stop, every cabin, every field began to come to life with visions of life for the people who had once called it home. It was nearing dark and we made one last stop at a two-story cabin with a cantilever barn across the road. I made my way into the cabin. It was large and well-kept, appearing much as I imagined it would when it was once full of life, save for the lack of furnishings. My husband was outside, roaming around the grounds, I was alone inside. I allowed my mind to wander back in time. Suddenly, shadowy children were running through the house, a zephyr of laughter on their heels. The apparition of an annoyed mom wiped her hands on her apron and shooed them out the door with an admonishment about muddy feet as the screen door slamming shut echoed behind them. A ghostly scent of bacon wafted through the house as the vision faded and I couldn't help but smile. This home probably had many days of laughter and joy and the walls could probably tell stories of both contentment and hardship, if they could only talk.

I walked out on the front porch and envisioned the man of the house standing beside me, leaning against the post with a pipe in his mouth. After spending the day laboring in his fields, a hot meal in his belly, his children finishing up their chores, he had a satisfied smile on his face. I felt a smile cross my face as well.

Since that day, understanding of the treasure I held in my hand that day has grown. Regret for leaving so soon fills me when I think about it. It was those unseen boundaries we place on ourselves that pulled me away, somehow feeling that I was outside of those boundaries. Those same boundaries keep me from following my dreams and venturing into the unknown. My frail imagination didn't know what to do with that gift and now I just want to go back and sit with my journal and just listen. I just know that one could hear the whisper of God in that sound. I yearn to hear it again. At times I am obsessed with it-for the first time in my life, I heard SILENCE! Something I never even really thought about, yet God allowed me to experience it. Even now I can't even conjure the imagination of that sound. The understanding of is just unfathomable unless you are hearing it.

There really are treasures here on earth...if we only slow down long enough to see...or hear them.