Companionable Silence

Although my husband was out of town, I spent yesterday afternoon with a good friend walking through Forest Hills Gardens, an English Garden Community in New York City. The walk probably only qualifies for about less than a quarter of our daily walks on the Coast to Coast, but it was an excellent reminder of the fabulous conversations we have when we are in motion.

When writing about walking the North Woods, I ended on this idea and it something to which I have been meaning to return for some time. I don’t think that tonight after having spent the last 24 hours writing a 36 page report for work, I have enough energy to truly describe the exhilaration of walking our way through a conversation. That will have to wait for another night. Instead, I want to spend a few moments on the importance of companionable silence.

On our first cross-country drive, almost eight years ago, we listened to CD’s along the way, which helped to interrupt some of the monotony of a three week drive. On our second drive cross-country, we were headed West after a year of long distance and had only four days to drive from one side of the US to the other. There was plenty to say on this trip, if for no other reason than to keep one another awake as we meandered through the Rockies. On our third and final cross-country drive back to the East Coast, my Chevy was on its last legs. Neither the air conditioning, nor the heat worked. My husband had to refresh his memory of Pride and Prejudice for a course he was teaching so he had tried to listen to the novel as a book on tape and the third cassette was permanently lodged in the tape deck. Our choice of audio was limited to Chapters 9-12 of Pride and Prejudice, discussion or silence. Although we always have quite a bit to discuss, over the course of our two week travels, much of the time together was spent in silence, observing the scenery, and conversing with our own thoughts. It was lovely.

The time spent side by side, without the need to utter a word, can be just as enjoyable as the hearty discussions that alternately bring us insights and solace.

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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6 Responses to Companionable Silence

  1. Fidophiles says:

    That’s what I love about my dog walks – everyday I get to take some time out and can just wander around the town and let my thoughts wander too. Of course, sometimes I get caught talking to the dog which must make me look like a mad woman. But it can be the best conversation I’ve had all day!

  2. sgyoung says:

    That is a wonderful description of a close relationship too. You’re a good writer.
    I hope the reader of your book on tape had a pleasant voice! Personally I could listen to either Kate Winslet of Rachel Weisz for hours on end. Kate beckinsale too. But not Colin Firth stuttering.

    • The tape was pre-Colin Firth. I believe that the library had discharged the cassette series and we picked it up for a dollar or so. It was a pretty old rendition. Thanks for the kind words and for following along.

  3. Josh M says:

    One of my litmus tests for determining whether or not someone is a good hiking / traveling companion is what happens when, on a longer hike, we hit that moment where the conversation runs out. If I can walk for miles with the other person and neither of us feels the need to break the silence, I figure they’re someone I want to keep hiking with. Granted, as a big talker myself, it’s taken me a few years to learn just how valuable these moments are. I took a brief road trip with a friend recently, and we spent most of the drive in complete silence, no radio, no talking — and it was fine. The trip went faster just because someone else was “there.” I like to think of it as hitting a higher gear; you’ve both said all that needs to be said for now, and your mind is free to bask in the glow of companionship without needing to work to maintain that bond. A beautiful thing!

    • Absolutely! The quiet time is just as telling, if not more so, than the conversations we have with one another. Its far more difficult to find someone with whom we can be comfortable silent.

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