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In the moments of silence

| Monday, September 7, 2015

As an RA in Duncan Hall this year, I didn’t expect my fourth residence hall move-in experience to be especially educational. After all, there’s only so much to know about unpacking cars, moving furniture and awkward first interactions between randomly assigned roommates from across the country. As the freshmen moved in for Welcome Weekend two weeks ago, though, I was surprisingly picking up new lessons anyhow. Yes, I learned (or re-learned, for that matter) how to loft a bed using modular furniture after bunking for the last two years. Indeed, I began to understand how full a “full” elevator could become. And yes, of course, I learned how to retrieve the second floor master key and unlock a room in two minutes flat.

One of the most significant realizations, however, came in observing parent-freshmen interactions throughout the weekend. Aside from learning how to think on my feet and recall some of the more obscure bits from RA training the week before, answering questions from worried parents and assuaging the concerns of residents made me appreciate more fully what my RAs in the past had to deal with. More importantly, I had the opportunity to travel back in time three years to when my parents and I navigated the completely foreign landscape that was the University of Notre Dame. From both down the hall and up close and personal, I observed my fair share of teary-eyed goodbyes as well.

It was in observing these interactions and farewells that I realized more completely the importance of silence in communication. Sure, we all know the adage that “silence is golden,” but it was this experience in combination with many other recent ones that clarified its role in saying much more than words often can.

A resident, standing outside his door, was chatting with his mother, keys in hand. All of the last-minute items were being ticked off (“Now are you sure that you have enough Easy Mac?”), the typical reassurances uttered (“Mom, I’m fine, don’t worry about me.”). Finally, and most importantly, were the shifty glances toward the wall, down at shoes and the silence. The silence, usually followed by a hug or sometimes a tear or two, expressed what words could not. For it was in that silence that a concerned parent and unsure first-year student understood that despite of all the variables that the next four years would bring and all the uncertainties and turns in the road that were to come, that this would be a time of change that they would encounter together.

Since move-in, I’ve been paying closer attention to these moments of silence in my life and what they say. Whether it is a casual conversation on the quad, a hug for a friend in need or a moment alone at the Grotto at night, making sense of these brief pauses in the action require a brand of introspection that I find is often difficult to confront. It is within these moments, however, that I learn important parts about what it means to be, well, me.

Perhaps the moment that most recently inspired the writing of this article came at the beginning of our recent domination over Texas on Saturday, in the moment of silence in honor of Fr. Ted. While the student section usually does a great job at observing moments of silence as they arise, it was clear from the moment his name was displayed on the scoreboard screen that this time was different. As the roar of the stadium quieted to a din, the silence in the senior section represented what we all remember from the events of this past March — respect for a man that did so much for so many. It was in this remarkably quiet moment (for a football game, at least) that I was able to understand more about the community of this University than a simple conversation could.

I will leave this column with a challenge — the next time you’re confronted with a pregnant pause in a conversation, or find yourself at a loss for words, try to think about what it means. You will often find it more telling than you think.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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