I am acutely aware that this column will be published the day before Election Day. There are intense emotions swirling around November 3, 2020: an election that falls during a year of pandemic, wildfires, protests over systemic racism, and a country bitterly divided along partisan lines. Reflecting on the United States in 1967, Joan Didion wrote, “The center was not holding.” Reflecting on the United States in 2020, I ask, “Is there a center anymore, and can anybody find it?!?”
After the 2016 election, I wrote my opinion about the state of the nation. At the time, I felt an obligation – as someone who works with words – to make a statement, to add my response. If you’ve consumed any news or been on social media lately, it’s clear that now almost everybody feels this obligation.
But I no longer do, so today I am writing about the often-underrated value of silence.
By silence, I mean: no words, either spoken or written.
Wordlessness might seem like an odd thing for me to embrace. I am a writer. I live in a house that is full of noise and lively discussion all the time. We are a family that reads, and reads out loud, then reads some more, because individuals and cultures are formed by story. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of teaching my children written and spoken expression. If you give me money, I will buy books (or, occasionally, bookshelves.) I inhale and exhale words.
But there can be too much of a good thing: too much chocolate, too much exercise, too much vacation. And at this point in time, there are too many words.