I grew up in a three-bedroomed flat in Ballymun and it was always crowded. I didn't have my own bed until I was a teenager. This environment, I've noticed, has influenced me in two contrasting ways.
One is a stubborn contrarianism, a disposition to assert my own individuality and strive for originality, which I think derives from a fear of being swallowed up in the crowd. This tendency has good and bad aspects. It also gives me an affection for eccentrics and oddballs.
(It would be unfair to pretend that this is entirely a reaction to my family environment. Indeed, there was plenty of eccentricity and originality in my family, and it was prized.)
The other legacy of my rather crowded upbringing is a dislike of silence. I'm used to having activity around me and I like having activity around me. I like having a background.
This has made me rather impatient and even disdainful of people who "need" silence. Which might not be a great qualification for somebody working in a library. I must admit I'm rather unsympathetic towards students who ask: "What's the quietest part of the library?". My reply is inevitably: "Get over yourself, you cissy." At least, that's what I feel like saying.
It's also prejudiced me against the whole mania for silence. Of course, "mania" is a loaded word. I'm not suggesting this attitude of mine is fair or rational. But at the same time, I'm rather antagonized whenever I hear someone praising silence and contemplation. They always say this as though it is something incredibly original and even daring (usually accompanied by disparaging remarks about "our 24-hour society" and social media, etc. etc.) But pretty much everybody is on Team Silence, as far as I can tell. Except for me!
Having said all that, I can think of any number of occasions in my own life when I've been thrilled by silence. For instance, when visiting my aunt's farm in Limerick. What I love about the relative silence of the countryside is that you can actually hear distance. Hearing water gurgling in a drain far away is a delicious sensation. Or (to take a more suburban example) listening to shouts and cheers drifting from a playing-field out of sight.
On the whole, though, I'm on Team Noise, Team Activity. I realize that this puts me at odds with the whole Christian tradition, I'm sure I'm in the wrong, and all I'm asking for here is an exemption.
But is contemplation all about silence, anyway?
I have a mind that is always racing. I find it very hard to concentrate during Mass and the rosary. This is one reason I prefer a short Mass, since trying to concentrate during a protracted one is quite tiring.
Silence doesn't make me feel contemplative. It just makes my mind race more.
Having something to keep my mind busy, and thus soothing it, is what "liberates" my contemplative side. Perhaps I am not so strange in this. After all, this seems to be the point (or some of the point) of the repetitive prayers of the rosary, according to some authors. It focuses and steadies the analytic part of the mind, which allows the contemplative part of the mind to work.
I only have time for a quick post now, so I will resume this topic in my next one.