One of the aspects of New York I love most is the noise. At any point of day or night you’ll hear people on the street talking, laughing, or running down Broadway looking for a midnight snack.
The noise can also be suffocating. Amid blaring sirens and shouting vendors, it can be difficult to remember—to quote the ever glorious Simon and Garfunkel—“the sound of silence.”
Quiet can be a critical part of personal development and human connection. In a culture of constant communication—through Twitter, texting, and more—spending time alone is something that’s often disdained. Only recently has the cultural discourse around introversion shifted, owing in part to author Susan Cain’s bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I always thought it was strange that the Jewish community is given only one day a year focused on repairing broken relationships—Yom Kippur—yet it’s a day of complete introspection. We are expected to repent and reach out to those we’ve hurt by turning inwards and reflecting.
Yet when I think about the story we read on that day, the Book of Yonah, the concept of mending friendships through inward meditation begins to make sense. Yonah, struggling to manage his broken relationship with God, decides to escape by heading for a new home. He immerses himself in a new group of people, joining a group of mariners on their way to Tarshish. This method of escape proves a failure. But when Yonah spends three days cut off from human connection, engulfed in the quiet of the ocean, he is forced to reflect on his misdoings and repent. He finds the words he needs to reach out to God when left in complete silence. Essentially, the Book of Yonah offers a powerful case for solitude.
Yonah is forced into isolation by a near death experience. But his story boils down to a critical point—oftentimes we find the strength to heal relationships when left alone. Yonah’s approach is counter-intuitive. Educators and parents frequently preach that in order to fix friendships we should turn to others for advice and support, rather than relying on the wisdom within ourselves.
Every year on Yom Kippur, I end the day by walking by myself through Riverside Park. It’s dusk and the park is emptying quickly. Somehow it is the one time of year when I am able to tune out the cacophony of city sounds—maybe it’s the hunger. Either way, in the middle of the busiest city I turn inwards and reflect. It’s that solitude that empowers me as I think of the relationships I can mend through repentance. The sound of silence leaves me feeling stronger.
This year my Yom Kippur traditions will shift—I just moved into my dorm room at college and I’m no longer in the center of busy New York City. But regardless of the way I observe Yom Kippur, I know that it is not just an isolated day. It is a way of shaping my year. It marks my September and reminds me that I can spend the next months crafting meaningful relationships by giving myself space for solitude and quiet.email print