Walking back to the Girls' Silence House, it starts to rain. Lightly at first, but then more and more steadily. There is thunder and lightning, and I've forgotten my rain coat, but I am warm, and I am heading to a warm dry place with a bed, so it's alright. I have the impulse to tell someone this information - "Don't worry, it's alright, I made it back safe." MIchael is always worried about getting wet in the rain; I'm sure he would have asked. But there is no one to tell. Over and over I swallow my words - it's a strange feeling.
I share a small room with a girl I have not met. She is doing a week in silence so she has been here five days already. I hear her come in at night, but I am already in bed. In the morning we get ready for the day together, but we don't speak or make eye contact. In fact I don't really even have a good picture in my head of who she is because I avoid looking directly at her. I wonder where she's from, and try to peer as politely as possible at her toiletry case to see what language is written on the bottles.
As I quietly leave the room and head downstairs, I find I am full of unspoken apologies - sorry for moving into your room, sorry for disturbing you while you were painting, sorry for letting the door bang, sorry for closing/opening the window when maybe you wanted it open/closed, etc. I save them up, to be spoken out loud on Sunday morning, but that's ridiculous. I can't spend all of Sunday morning apologizing. I need instead to let these things go and depend on the charity and small forgivenesses of those with whom I am living. And I need to give them in return. Not always easy.
I go sleepily to the Morning Prayer, enjoying misty countryside as I walk. My thoughts are a bit everywhere. I imagine what would happen if I suddenly got very sick and was taken to the hospital. How would they find Michael to tell him? But otherwise, I am calm. I have time. Inner peace will come.
Breakfast is at 9:30am, and the silence house is a 15min walk from the church, so we all leave as soon as the prayer is done. The crowd thins out until it's just us left on the road, and yet we aren't really walking together, in a group. We're in a line, single file, not talking. We must look strange.
At breakfast, there are maybe 20 of us around the table, eating and not speaking. The silence to me feels hostile. I'm used to silence indicating unfriendliness, anger, reproach. But this should be a different kind of silence. I think that as time goes on, it will grow to be companionable.
After breakfast Sister Isabelle (a nun) speaks to us for one hour. She talks about what to expect, what to be wary of, and gives us suggestions of how we can organize our day. It is good, I think, to go into silence with a guide that you trust. After the talk, we each have a small job to do. Mine is to clean the toilets in the garden. My work partner and I speak briefly as we locate the supplies we'll need and then complete our task. We finish quickly but I have urge to continue discussing- next time I'll use less soap, etc., but I stop, and we simply part ways.
At lunch, after the Midday Prayer, we sing a song to begin the meal, and this blending of voices of people I've never heard speak somehow turns strangers into friends. During the meal, music is played – piano sonatas, and that also makes our silence more bearable.
In the afternoon, I take a small nap, I read Psalms in the village church of Ameugny, I wander through the countryside, and I sing songs sitting by a river where the bubbling water covers my voice and no one can hear me but myself. I find I am full of plans – I'd like to write a guide for couples thinking about leaving together on a bike trip. I'd like to host a weekend silent retreat back home. I'd like to try to re-create on paper the teal barn door with yellow, orange and grey bricks that I can see through the window of the small common room. The day's too short. Already I'm thinking I'd like the silence to be longer.