(HOST) All this week, we’ve been featuring essays written by Vermonters for “This I Believe”, the national radio series exploring principles and values that guide our lives.
Today, we conclude our series with Andrew Flewelling, who believes that silence is a necessary condition for spiritual growth and renewal. Here he is with his essay for This I Believe.
ESSAY: I believe in silence. Not necessarily the kind where there is no sound, but the kind that allows me to stop paying attention to the world around me and start listening to my own spirit.
When I was a child of 5, my playground was the small, stone church on Washington Street, just down the road from Wellesley College. My father was a minister there and we lived next door. I remember riding my big wheel tricycle down the center aisle, marveling at the silence that remained as I rolled down the thick blue carpet. I remember that the perfect hiding place for hide-and-go-seek was under the altar cloth. Because no one thought I would actually hide there. But it’s the cool silence of that stone church that I remember the most. It was heady and gave me life.
At some point, like all children do, I grew up. My awareness of life broadened to include more than my home and the neighborhood in which I lived. And along the way, I quietly lost my ear for the silence.
In my experience, our world is cacophonous. It’s filled with the noise of civilization. Teachers, television, parents, movies, history, religion. It’s the noise of our society that at one time dictated the way I thought my life ought to be lived. It set the rules. I was raised amid the sounds of a subordinated people. My black skin spoke volumes to the people around me. It told them that I was a threat, that I was base in the eyes of our free and equal American society.
As a young man just 25 years old, the reality that my father was dying gave me the strength to find silence again. I spent uncounted afternoons by his side talking and listening to pure sound, not noise. He told me to be my own man. He helped me recognize the noise so I could stop listening to it. His dying pushed it away and created a space where silence could bloom and thrive. And in that silence, perhaps for the first time since I was five, I heard the voice of my spirit. It told me what I value. It showed me my weaknesses, illuminated my strengths, and gave me the clarity to decide for myself how I ought to live.
I believe the noise of our world is killing people, stifling spirits and limiting the potential of humanity. In the years since my father’s death, I try daily to hear the silence amid the noise of career, children, war, flood, and success. Most days I find it as I walk hand in hand with my daughters in the woods behind our home. It’s the church of my adult life. I tell them about the grandfather they never knew. I share with them the lessons he gave me. I tell them how he saved my life.
I believe there is a person inside all of us that needs to be heard.