I am sitting on cement bleachers at an ice rink southeast of Chicago’s O’Hare airport, our home ice. The kids and I are nearing the end of our day, I am tired and my butt is cold. I would like for the women seated near me to stop talking.
Endless, mindless chatter about nothing. What merit is left to silence? Do these women ever stop talking? Why doesn’t anyone just sit and listen? Sit and pay attention to the sounds of hockey practice, the sounds of children, of Tuesday nights and an hour spent at the rink.
The whir of fans in the large pipes suspended from the roof. The slide of sticks on the ice. The sound blades make as a skater picks up speed, the smack of a puck against the boards, the sharpness of a precisely executed hockey stop. The muted calls from coaches I can’t quite understand and the boisterous calls of siblings I do understand. The sounds of children as they climb the bleachers, chase each other and play games with tennis balls, rolls of tape and old Gatorade tops.
“Why isn’t that kid on the ice?” Constituted mutterings about the cost of ice time and these kids and how they mess around in the locker room and don’t get out there. Instead of walking over to the child and asking him if he needs help, one hollers across the rink, “Hey, come here! Let me lace your skate!” And I hear the expletives the child does not.
They talk even while they are lacing skates. When there is no more idle chatter they dial their phones and find other voices. How do people talk this much about nothing! I am tired and the voices create noise that sounds do not. I prefer silence and solitude to voices.
There is a need for voices to communicate, to reach out to colleagues, lovers and friends, to share. A need to give thanks, give directions, give back and sometimes ask for more. There is a need to conduct business, heal the sick, teach, research, comfort. Words can soothe a wounded psyche, encourage, elevate and inspire. Yes, we need voices.
But the noise of these women’s voices has driven me away from them. These women here at the rink are hockey moms like me whom I see on different days and nights depending on our intermingling schedules. I never sit with them, and if I end up too close to them, like I have tonight, I move away.
At best they probably think me a snob. Am I? Do I think myself better than they are? Maybe I do. These women annoy me, and I do not think I annoy people by not speaking. But then I realize that me and my solitude, my yearning for silence can be offensive. It is possible to offend people by saying nothing, by not using my voice, not speaking?
My brother is angry with me again, and I don’t know why. I am afraid that I have offended him. I want him to know how much I love him. But I have spent so much time being silent and sitting off by myself on the bleachers listening that I am unable to speak. I wish I could ask him, “What have I done to hurt you?”