Sound of Silence
March 5, 2020/ Spark Magazine
The mountain’s terrain seemed inviting yet a daunting feeling overwhelmed my gut. No one was talking. Everyone was taking in the serenity of the fleeting moment. It was silent, and that terrified me.
I stood at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, and there I experienced the unending void of sound. No whispers, no birds calling out to their young ones, not even the sweet hum of Paul McCartney in the distance. Just pure nothingness flowed into my ears. That was silence.
In today’s world of constant noise, silence is rare. Between music, movies and television, we have learned to run toward the noise, avoiding the silent altogether.
I used to crave noise. Silence caused loneliness. The silent moments were the ones where I felt like it was me versus the world. No team backing me up. No family to love on me. Not even an enemy to fight against. In the silence, there was just me.
In high school, my humanities teacher used to challenge us to sit in silence. “Two minutes. You guys can do this,” he would say.
When the time started, the room heard only the noise generated by the dusty desktop computer. But before the second hand of the clock could make a full circle, the giggles would start. Behind our shared oval desks, our awkwardness and teenage angst rebelled against the silence. We would squirm and smile, only ever keeping quiet for the full two minutes a few times. I hated the silent room; the childish giggles gave me much-needed comfort.
Back on the trail with my backpack on and journal in hand, the initial days of the climb were full of curious grins, sweaty bodies and eager eyes. We all knew that we would shortly be on the literal top of the world. But when summit day hit, the altitude changed our attitudes.
Our wake-up call came promptly at 11 p.m. With groggy bodies and tired faces, we put on layer after layer of clothing in total darkness to prepare for the grueling seven-hour hike.
When I stepped out of my tent into the cold night, I didn’t know that the entire hike, with minimal exceptions, would be in silence. And I mean utter silence. The kind where every inhale and exhale vibrates through your body, every thought you have pounds your ears. My head was trapped by the hood of the giant down puffy jacket, muffling the sounds of the world around me, causing this excess of internal noise.
“ Everything felt long. Everything felt lightless. Everything felt lonely. ”
Physically, my body revolted with the effects of acute mountain sickness. Mentally, I was scared of the silence. Everything felt long. Everything felt lightless. Everything felt lonely.
After three hours in still air, something changed. The void of sound felt calming. The worry that previously encompassed my mind passed, allowing for a wave of peace. Positive thoughts began to circle my brain. In the dark, I was able to use the muffled silence to enhance my eyes, finally noticing the terrain beneath my feet and the steam coming from everyone's breath.
In that moment, I realized there was so much beauty to be found within the quiet. It invited my senses to be on high alert, catching sights, textures and scents I would have otherwise missed. The quietness opened up the opportunity for my mind to entertain thought after thought and experience emotion after emotion. I was finally able to witness the growth possible in the silence.
Those seven hours were incredibly rewarding. Yes, getting to the top of a 19,341-foot mountain held its accolades, but the final ascent delivered so much more.
In the silence, I was able to see the beauty, beauty that would have otherwise gone unseen. Not only the beauty of the world around me but also the beauty within myself and others. I realized that I am capable of great feats, that no matter what the world tells me, I can do it. I was able to fully recognize those around me as the intelligent, determined souls that they are — full of eagerness, full of beauty, full of hope. By observing others appreciate the silence, I learned what caught their interests. The curiosity behind their eyes would blossom, and with the absence of sound I could enter the world through their eyes.
The void offers more than just potential loneliness, it invites beauty. Beauty to develop your passions as you engage fully with the world around you.
For me, the silence taught me that being in the wilderness, surrounded by isolation, does something to your mindset, something amazing. It took the feelings of loneliness and transformed them into thoughts full of awe. Awe of myself. Awe of others. Awe of the ground beneath my feet.
“FOR THE MOST PART, THE HIKE WAS QUIET. NO ONE WAS TALKING, AND I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE WAS MISERABLE. BUT NOW, SITTING DOWN, BACK AT CAMP, I REALIZE THAT EVERYONE WAS USING THE SILENCE TO TAKE IN THE SURREAL WORLD AROUND THEM. THEY WERE TRYING TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THE CLIMB.” — JOURNAL ENTRY FROM ATOP OF THE WORLD.
I know I can’t go back to make myself sit in silence for those two minutes during all those high school days. But I wish I could take back some of those giggles so I could have learned the allure of the sound of silence earlier. ■
by: Jax Knox
layout: Jessica Nguyen
photographer: Teresa Martinez
stylists: Vivian Yu