Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sounds of Silence

I think it was around six o'clock this morning that I started to wonder if I was cracking up.

That was around the time the phone in the bedroom rang, and I answered it. It was Sam, and he was calling to find out how I was doing. Pretty thoughtful guy, that Sam. I'm doing all right, I told him. Being alone isn't getting to me in the least. And that was when I realized that I was talking out loud to a person I didn't know, on a phone that doesn't exist, in a room all by myself.

Shit, I had some weird dreams last night. And now they're calling me up to see how I'm doing? I pulled the covers up and wondered if there was any point in trying to go back to sleep. Probably not. Aside from a trip to the bathroom five hours earlier, I'd been asleep since seven the evening before.

Aside from the call from Sam, I haven't spoken to anyone since my wife called to let me know that she and the girls had arrived at my brother's house safe and sound. Doctor's orders. I'm supposed to avoid physical contact with other people for forty-eight hours, following the radiation treatment I took yesterday to wipe out what's left of my thyroid cancer.

I have loads of people I could call, but I haven't bothered yet. I expect I will this evening, before Sam calls back to check on me again.

There are some kinds of silence I like. There's the expectant kind, like my daughter has just before she opens a birthday present; the pause-for-breath sort, like my wife had between contractions when our daughter was born; and there's the after-the-storm sort, when the sun comes out and you can listen to the birds start singing again, and watch the grass dry, one blade at a time.

Then there's this loud, oppressive sort. Sometimes it seems positively malicious, like there's a massive weight pressing down upon your chest, slowly forcing your soul from your very body so it can devour you. All you want to do is run and hide, behind the noise of an iPod or TV set, in mindless chatter with another human being.

The thing about this sort of silence, though, is that it's patient. It's been at this for years, and it knows that it can wait longer than you can. Sooner or later, the TV program will end, the iTunes will run out and the chatter will grow still. Even getting phone calls from Sam seems better than dealing with this sort of silence. It's a lonely sort of silence, and it's perfectly miserable.

You know how they say misery loves company? It's not true. Misery doesn't want company. What it wants is for you to be miserable too, so it does what it can to pull you down, into the silence, where it waits with that backward smile for the chance to lock you into your own private hell.

I remember the first time I got trapped in that silence, way back in college. It had me sick for over a week, and it wasn't until I reached out to a friend and asked her to pray for me that I got better. The last time I was trapped there, it was from the overwhelming grief of losing a child. I never would have survived, except for the love and support of friends who pulled me out, and who pulled my wife out, so we could pull each other out the rest of the way.

Today, I took my wife's keyboard downstairs, where I'm teaching myself to play the piano, and I practiced playing "Holy, Holy, Holy." It's a beautiful hymn, even when it's played badly, and hearing those familiar notes shakily accompanied by own voice was enough to remind me of a connection I have with someone far greater than myself, and with a silence filled with far more comfort and presence than the kind that lurks in waiting for us.

I used to think that the silence of God was a disappointing, or even frustrating thing. Often, I admit, I still do. I wish that just once when I pray, I could hear him respond clearly like he always seemed to do when people talked with him in the Bible. He comes across like a positive chatterbox with prophets like Isaiah, and even if Job heard God speak from a whirlwind, at least he got some beautiful poetry out of the deal. It seems like when I pray, all I get is the static at the end of one of God's LPs, where the needle just moves back and forth in its groove and waits for someone to put a new record on.

But a few months ago, it hit me that God isn't just silent; he's listening. He's listening with all his heart to what we have to say. He's not just hanging on our every word, he's listening beyond those words to the aches and griefs we feel but don't know how to share. He listens because he alone knows what it means to be shattered along the width and breadth of humanity. That's a deep, beautiful silence.

It's a silence I want to share. Today, at least, I want to listen back. I want him to tell me the burdens he carries that make him cry for grief, to tell me the things that make him laugh, and the delights he has that teach the stars to sing and dance for joy. I want him to share his heart with me and know that, for once, I'm actually going to listen, even though I don't have a chance of understanding all that he has to say.

I remember a scant four weeks ago, when we were hit with two feet of snow. School was canceled, the roads were closed, and for the first time in ages, I could stand outside and not hear car horns, squealing brakes or the other noise of a city. My daughter and I stood and listened from the sidewalk as the wind sighed and the snowflakes delicately crunched together.

"What is it?" she asked me. "I don't hear anything."

Exactly. Silence is a beautiful thing.

Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.


beth said...

I REALLY enjoy your writing...linked up from a comment you made at RLP and I've been so pleasantly blessed to share a glipmse into your life. I pray that your recovery continues to go well and that your girls will be a balm to you in spite of the restrictions you face in your interaction with them.

You are a remarkable writer! Thanks...

Steph said...

Hi David! I just read the pieces on this page, and I really enjoyed them. You have a "green thumb" with words:-)

Newbirth said...

I've read this before and never caught it - God isn't just silent, but listening with all His heart directly to our hearts.

I need to remember that as I head into Holy Week and find alone time with him amidst all the church services and hubbub if the Easter season.

Thanks for the reminder. Too often He is the first thing to get lost when life gets crazy.

marauder said...

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who took the time to compliment me on the writing. I don't write often enough, but it's nice to know that when I do, people are able to find value in it.

minx said...

I really liked this article. VERY well written, and so true. Sometimes the silence from God annoys me and then I suddenly realize that He has sent me a message I didn't understand.

My mom used to say, "All will be explained to us in God's time, not ours." I think she's right.

She's been gone for 10 years and I hope that on Sunday afternoons, she's sipping tea with God. That's what she predicted would happen!

Keep up the good work, Dave!