“There are no words.”

Isn’t that what people say after a tragedy?

Here we are at holiday time. A time of festivity and remembrance, introspection and gratitude. Yet, at this holiday time, when we still hold hope for peace and joy, we also consider a tragedy befallen a community. And we are all a little less for it. A little less secure, a little less tranquil, a little less humanized. For we have witnessed horror.

si·lence [sahy-luh ns] noun 1. absence of any sound or noise; stillness. 2. the state of being silent; muteness. 3. absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern. 4. the state of being forgotten. 5. concealment; secrecy. verb (used with object) 6. to put or bring to silence; still. 7. to put (doubts, fears) to rest; quiet. Origin: early 13c., from Old French silence “absence of sound,” from Latin silentium “a being silent,” from silens, prp. of silere “be quiet or still.”

“There are no words.”

At such a time, we are silenced. We are mute. We are numbed – our world is crushed and our feelings just frayed. We need solace. We seek wholeness. We need strength. We want answers.

“There are no words.”

But there must be words that are meaningful and timely. How do we find them? Where do we turn?


First grade teacher Victoria Soto shielded her students from the barrage of bullets. Family friend Paul Simon sang “The Sound of Silence” at her funeral. Without introduction and with only his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, he sang her favorite song. As reported, “When Simon finished, there was no applause. Just a hushed and reverent silence.”

Silence.musicspeaksIs silence important? That Paul Simon performed this same song during the 10th anniversary commemoration of 9/11 at Ground Zero in New York on September 11, 2011 suggests it is. That we don’t know what to say – and can’t find the words – is normal. It may be a reflexive reaction that nonetheless serves us well. Silence allows us to shut off all the noise around us and instead listen to our own internal voice. It gives us a chance to organize our thoughts. What do we really think? How do we really feel? What do we need to do? How can we move forward? If it is only through music that we communicate surest – just for now – then so be it. There will be time enough for talk once we find our words. For now, the sound of silence is a comfort.

The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share No one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know Silence like a cancer grow
Hear my words that I might teach you Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets Are written on subway walls And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence”

© 1964 Words and Music by Paul Simon


Quotes: 1. Aldous Huxley, 2: Hans Christian Andersen

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