Silence Remains a Form of Speech
All my memories related to silence start on the way home. By “home” I do not mean the house in Beijing, where my parents and I live, but the place where my family is, a remote village of Jiangsu province; or in a Chinese conception, “laojia”, the place where one’s ancestors lived and supposedly render one a sense of belonging. This distinction has been imprinted in my brain since the first time I could remember riding the train: every Spring Festival, my parents would take me to go “home” by train, the only affordable means of transportation to them at that time. Although I was born in this village, I moved to Beijing with my parents at the age of two, never acknowledging myself as one of the people living or having once lived there. The village to me was strange, and the only thing I know about was its barren land and poverty caused by its adverse circumstances.
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But Beijing also failed to provide me with a sense of belonging. People living in this city were isolated. I always suspected that living in this city rendered me the characteristics of many citizens: indifferent and self-centered. What my parents merely saw as “going home” was more like a jaunty trip to me, because riding the train itself was great fun. From the greater part of my childhood, my Spring Festival memories were all related to my adventures riding the train.
It took about ten hours to travel to Jiangsu and another ten hours to return, which meant we set off at night and arrived at our destination in the morning. The time I spent on the train was simply enjoyable: accompanied with the monotonous rhythm of the wheels clicking on the rails was passengers’ laughter, radiating their expectation to celebrate the festival with their family. But the laughter would not last long. The majority of the time silence prevailed on the train. Initially, I thought that it was because the night fell and invoked their sleepiness, so I remained silent, too. I remembered that I always detected the rhythm of the engine’s drone, and was amazed at the fact that the click between wheel and rail can be so smooth. Most of the times I would fall asleep to this unique lullaby and wake up at dawn, as we were passing a bridge. Living in a city built up with modern buildings and mansions, I could not find any aesthetic or architectural value of the bridge. But despite my impatience and heedlessness, my mother always told me that the bridge was the symbol of the great effort made by people who lived on the barren land. The bridge to the village was like the Pyramid to Egypt, at least to my parents, it was the only architecture that could invoke their difficult childhood, and it was the sweetness wrested out of the bitterness. She would also tell me how excited she was when she passed the bridge at the first time to attend college in Beijing. Usually before she finished, we would arrive at the destination.
However, for once, I was so intoxicated in the silence that I did not fall asleep as usual. Staring at the scenery outside, I remained silent yet conscious all the way home, questioning my identity and thinking about where on earth I belonged to, the sort of things that beset me but I had never bothered to think about. The scenery kept changing and quickly passed out of sight. Little by little, as I aimlessly glanced at my mom, I was surprised to find that her eyes sparkled with inexplicable excitement and tears. Looking around, I realized that people, whom I had supposed to be sleeping, were staring outside as I was. The more attentively I listened, I could even capture intermittent sounds of sobs. Slowly, it dawned on me that, in silence, people were absorbed in their emotion, in the state of entirely being themselves. The silence in the balcony flashed upon me in a mesmerizing way, making me aware of something that I had failed to perceive. I found that, over the years, the drone of the engine, the bridge, and the simple state of the passengers’ minds finally made sense to me: all these elements made up my way to “home” and connected me to place where I belong. The changelessness beneath these elements resembled my identity and my liaison to the village where I headed to. The silence remained in me was not the absence of noise; in an unintended but strong way, it expressed the presence of something deeper, something loyal to me, something that could make me hear what is beating below my heart. When silent, people were isolated but strongly connected in emotion, so that they could get rid of restiveness of talking. I saw in myself the true person I was, tracing back with him to the source of my life, to the remote village which I used to refuse to recognize as “home”. The silence was finally broken when my cousin cried out as we approached the bridge, when the sun rose and the day broke. And as we were slowly passing the bridge, I was assured that we were about to arrive home: the home I had always had but never acknowledged.
Later on, I learned to appreciate silence in a more intentional way: to sooth my unease or dispel my confusion. But memories of silence on the way home still retain a sense of pleasure for me; it emits a potent yet mystical energy, sharpening and quickening my senses. Silence unfolds my identity, and I know that silence is the true expression of my nature. I can always hover in a state of self-assurance derived from the enlightenment and serenity silence brings to me, as I first did on the train, as if I could watch my own mind and communicate to my consciousness.