As I departed eighth grade, I had about a week off before suddenly being bombarded with summer assignments in preparation for high school. I tried not to groan too much about it like my other friends who were struggling to even comprehend the fact that we had to READ during summer.
Along with some packets regarding history and Latin, we were assigned to read a book called The Chosen by Chaim Potok. My sister, three years older than me, had the book around the house somewhere and I immediately began reading since I didn’t want to prolong the misery that was awaiting me.
The book starts of pretty slow, I’m not going to lie. This is not a review, however, so I will not bore you with every last detail. Basically, two boys from two different sects of Judaism become best friends when one hits the other in the glasses with a baseball. Put that as a GoodReads review, wow. For the first third of the book, you think that the story is all about two Jewish boys learning not to hate each other. You think the whole book is about Judaism and growing up during WWII. I thought it was, at least.
But as the story continues, you realize that there is more than just a surface level of words on the page. Potok is trying to communicate something much deeper than a coming of age story between two unique protagonists. He is talking about the idea of silence.
Sure the storyline is very interesting, but to me that is just a rouse to force people to think about silence.
Danny is raised in complete silence from his father unless they were studying, whereas Reuven is raised in a household with his father with tons of communication. The reader continues the story disliking the silent ways of Danny’s father and begins to even praise Reuven’s father for his communicative ways.
In the end; however, Danny’s father reveals why he raised Danny the way he did. In this excerpt, he recalls what his father had told him, “When his people would ask him why he was so silent with his son, he would say to them that he did not like to talk, words are cruel, words play tricks, they distort what is in the heart, they conceal the heart, the heart speaks through silence (pg.278)”.
Reading that passage, I, too, began to rethink what silence was to to me.
My life is filled with pockets of silence. And for the longest time, I’ve attempted to fill those pockets with keys of music or wallets of small talk. Whether I am working in class or in the shower, I fill quiet moments with murmurs of incoherent thoughts under my breath or the tapping of my foot.
For so long, silence seemed to be a bad thing. Something that was awkward and ought to be demolished as soon as it starts with any form of noise.
I see that my verb tenses are flipping back and forth between past and present and my explanation for that is that I still don’t know my stance on silence. After reading The Chosen, I’ve rethought everything about the concept and I keep mulling it over in my head trying to draw some poetic conclusion that will adapt to my life. Yet, I still find myself sleeping with a fan on for white noise and playing music in the shower.
Maybe one day silence will feel like an old friend, but for now it is still a stranger I am getting to know.