The (Noisy) Sounds of Silence

The (Noisy) Sounds of Silence

An image illustrating Haruki Murakami's novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Illustration: Victo Ngai for The Boston Globe.

In the middle of Haruki Murakami's enchanting novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Tsukuru Tazaki—by now in his mid-30s—experiences an unexpected rejection that recalls a profound abandonment during his college years. "He closed his eyes," Murakami writes, "and, as if floating in water, drifted in that world of pain. Still, being able to feel pain was good, he thought. It's when you can't feel any pain anymore that you're in real trouble."

Like a jet-streak across the sky, the heights of fiction had discovered the very real depths of my own exhausted soul. Due to persistent job-related disappointments over the last three years and a pronounced struggle with anxiety and depression in 2015, floating in water and "drifting in that world of pain" are images that I feel rather acutely.

The Catholic spiritual writer Henri Nouwen has said, "Suffering—be it physical, mental, or emotional—is almost always experienced as an unwelcome intrusion into our lives." But, he goes on: "My own pain in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it. We have to make our most feared enemy into a friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion."

No wonder, then, in the midst of reading my first Murakami novel, I suddenly heard the unmistakable voice of Paul Simon:

Hello darkness, my old friend/I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping/Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain/Still remains

Within the sound of silence.


Maybe this companionship is exactly the way we avoid that danger of all dangers: succumbing to total numbness.

In one sentence, I hear the pain in Tsukuru Tazaki's life as it brings mine and yours into focus.

All sorts of sounds mixed together into a sharp, terrible static deep within his ears, the kind of noise that could only be perceived in the deepest possible silence.
— Haruki Murakami

Illustration: Clifford Harper/

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