Lesson Three: What Lurks Beneath the Surface

Miles and miles of Texas oilfields. Endless horizon of hazy clouds.  An even, steady whirring comes from the backseat where my youngest is snoring.  My oldest is also dozing back there, headphones firmly implanted… the placement of the purple earbuds seems to be permanent.  In the front with me is my middle one, gazing at the endless panorama of dirt, scrub, tumbleweeds and oil field pumps.  There is no where to go but forward on the two lane road and there is no escape from the quiet inside our overpacked Toyota Corolla.

Quiet allows many things to happen… I can be with my own thoughts, let them roil and spread, and examine them more closely.  I can observe what’s around me, what’s happening and what’s not happening, and take it in for what it is. Most important, in a quiet moment with another soul, you can listen.

In business, I have learned the value of silence. When you allow silence to hang, to expand into the space of that moment, to let silence alone be the answer… or sometimes the question… you learn more than if you tackled the topic directly.  Most of us are so uncomfortable with “awkward silences” that we rush to fill them.  And in our haste, the usual filters become flimsy – we are filling a void, not constructively participating in a dialogue.

Silence reveals the stuff beneath the surface.  In that meeting with the uncomfortable pause, you can observe which of your coworkers rushes to fill that void first, and what he/she fills it with.  Sometimes the information filling the void can be more uncomfortable than the original silence.  You have to learn in those moments not to respond to the rush, not to help the other person fill the void.  But listen carefully to what he or she is filling it with and decide, consciously, how to respond. It can be tough. Because what he/she fills it with is a little bit like receiving a drunk text at midnight from one of them – it’s raw, unfiltered thought.  But it’s definitely enlightening.

Lesson Three: What lurks below doesn’t have to be filled with drama
Teens are different, however. Have you met a teen uncomfortable with silence? Mine are not.  After a brief conversation about the history of the oil fields – David is a history buff and could share plenty of facts – he sat in that front seat for over an hour, not feeling the need to say a word. And not seeming antsy or bored, either.  As his mother, perhaps I should have been more concerned about the idea of him brooding or peppered him with questions about his school and his friends while we had a rare moment of just the two of us as his siblings slept.  But I let the silence be.

Dave occasionally turned to smile at me, or make a random comment… through these short conversations, I glimpsed what was going on underneath the surface of my son.  There is no big reveal here.  There was no dramatic confession, no sharing of secrets.  But in the quiet moments amid brush and big rigs, Dave let me see what was going on in his head, the inane, the serious, the funny. Silence was communication, too.  Recognition that we did not have to speak to be understood.

Sometimes, though, what lurks below is all drama
After hours of oil fields, we were ready for something different.  But rolling into Sonora, Texas, wasn’t going to offer that to us. I was tempted to skip our planned sight-seeing – the Caverns at Sonora – and just head straight for New Orleans.  I rationalized that I may never be back in Sonora again, however, and should at least go take a peek.  Above ground, Sonora offered nothing but a Dairy Queen and Sonic Drive-In.  Not promising.

Below ground… the caverns were breathtaking.

We were on a two mile walk with a young tour guide named Logan from Wisconsin. He had come out to Sonora to work in the oil fields but wasn’t old enough to drive the rigs, so he came to the caves.  When Logan turns 21, he plans to work in the oil fields and save money for college. Meanwhile, he worked in these beautiful underground tunnels that housed nature’s secret artwork.

For one moment, Logan had us sit on wooden benches placed in a small cavern.  We had just come down 150 feet underground.  “I want you to see something,” he said. “I need you all to sit very still and be very quiet.”  And he tripped the light switch.

Absolute darkness.  Absolute silence.

“There are few places in the world where you can fully experience the loss of both sound and light.  But this is it.”

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