Silence is as rare as it is essential. When was the last time you really heard silence? How long has it been since you saw a person sitting alone in silence? How often do you leave earphones and cell phones at home? Silence is disappearing as fast as the darkness dispersed by city lights. This loss is no accident—people have come to fear silence because it rends the veil of distraction that noise creates. But not all silence threatens; indeed, sometimes pauses are pregnant. In some places, silence can be an emptiness that is, paradoxically, full. You do not occupy this silence; it occupies you. Without silence, words can be neither spoken nor heard, and without words, silence is inaudible. Silence does not disappear when it is broken; for those who are not distracted, silence limns language as the necessary condition that exposes both its richness and its fragility. Silence is not just in the gaps and spaces that punctuate sentences but also within words as the lack that renders them fully articulate. To know what a person says, we must hear what remains unsaid. If we cannot hear silence, we do not know how to listen.

Excerpted from Recovering Place by Mark C. Taylor. © 2014 Columbia University Press. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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