Kylemore Abbey, home of the Benedictine Order of Nuns is situated on the picturesque west coast of Ireland. The nuns who reside here take a vow of silence and live quiet, peaceful lives in an enormous castle. The pristine acres of land surrounding the monastery include a solemn, gothic church the size of a miniature cathedral, a clear, tranquil lake that photographs the castle in its reflection, and a beautiful, walled Victorian garden with maze-like walkways lined with butterfly-filled flowers.
Except for the necessary hushed chanting and contemplative daily prayer, these women dedicate themselves to a lifetime of silence to get as close to God as possible. They walk in shoes with rubber soles through quiet corridors, and communicate in sign language to anyone they pass. Their electric clocks don’t tick. Their soft, plastic dishes make hardly a sound, even when dropped. The noises they hear are the wind gently drifting through the trees and the birds flapping their wings over the still, mirrored lake.
There are days when I can picture myself in a nun’s habit sitting restfully on an oak bench in that vine-covered, walled garden. I read quietly for hours at a time. When I put my book down I roll my shoulders, lean my head back, and bask in the warm sun. I am happy in this dream.
In my noisy reality, it’s impossible to create an environment where silence and solitude is respected because I live with one extroverted husband, four loud teenage daughters, and a menagerie of pets. Most nights and weekends, we live on top of one another in our family room with the sounds of speakers blasting, phone ringing, sisters fighting, and TV blaring. When there are momentary measures of piano silence, they quickly crescendo into a thunderous forte, our lives are buzzing with action from 3 pm-11 pm, Is my tennis skirt clean for tomorrow? The printer’s not working, Can I sleep over at Meghan’s on Saturday? Feed the dog! I hate math and I don’t care if I fail! Mom, she won’t get off the computer! Get in the car now or we’ll be late for swimming! My voice becomes shrill when I scream at them, “Clean up your room! You’d better be home by midnight! Don’t speak to me that way! Because I said so!”
I have a secret. Every weekday morning at 8:20 a.m. I enter my own convent on the east coast of the Hudson. I arrive home from taking everyone to school, and quietly open my front door. The only sound I hear is the deep sigh of my lazy Golden Retriever, Chloe, and two thumps of her tail greeting me before she drifts back to sleep. For the next few hours I remain in a sequestered state. I don’t make phone calls. I don’t watch the morning news. I don’t listen to music. I surround myself with silence while going about my morning routine at my own pace.
When I was a child, my schoolteacher father, loved to challenge and confuse us with words of wisdom and “dad philosophy.” His quote that I remember most was, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Even when I didn’t understand its meaning I loved this image of an empty, earless forest. The stillness of my house allows me to be cloistered in my own personal abbey. If a mom smiles in an empty house and there’s no one there to see her, is she really happy?
Linda D’Arcy is working on a collection of essays. Her essay, “Waiting for Emily,” about her adopted daughter from China will be published this spring in the Wising Up Press anthology Shifting Balance Sheets. She lives in Mount Vernon, N.Y. with her husband and four daughters.