Sometimes Golden

Does it ever exist in a pure form?  If we are not deaf, can we really experience it?  If we are deaf, do we really experience it at all?  I cannot answer for the deaf.  Their response may depend on the level or nature of their deafness.  It may be that, for it to truly exist, one must have never heard words to have them become thoughts.  For the hearing, however, I do not believe it exists.  We are only familiar with its silhouette, the mere image of its self.  This shadow is what we call “silence.”

When it appears that there is nothing present to stimulate our hearing, when we would normally say we are in the presence of silence, something creates a sound.  Even when it is just our thoughts, fears, imagination, or blood coursing through our lobes urging a tingling hum, true silence is not there. Its image, however, is a normal part of our lives.

Sometimes, it enters with a sly, tiptoe step; other times, it is so vivid, one would think it is the resounding tromp of a platoon of soldiers.  Casual circumstances, anticipated events and unexpected tragedies are all tinged with silence.

Walk with me…into the penumbra….

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Overhead, the loudspeaker commanded certain somebodies to go or come to such and such station on the third floor.  Swinging doors crashed open and closed, before and behind her.  The gurney banged into the delivery-room table, jarring her through the pain, making her wonder, again, if this was all worthwhile.

A multitude of thoughts sped through her mind while she was lying there, exposed with disregard, looking up at the ceiling, pushing, breathing, hurting, waiting.  But what about during that pause in her heart’s beating, in that long silence before the doctor spoke, what was she thinking then?  Did that interminable moment incubate the seed of anguish or jubilation?

Agitating the silence was the lazy humming of the overhead lights, the clanging of instruments into stainless-steel bowls, the beeping of the baby’s monitor and the rustling of paper gowns.  It seemed to go on forever.  The silence was too long.

The doctor was quiet, he didn’t say a thing; he just worked.  With swift, confident hands he untied the cord from their baby’s neck.  Still the silence, a moment more.  Did she dare breathe when her child had yet to take his first gasp of air?  Could she live if he didn’t?

Finally…the tiny cry!  “He’s fine – you’ve got a little boy!”  Happier words were never spoken!

He was just standing there, trying to be someone or something that she needed, telling her how beautiful their baby was, how beautiful she was, asking her, awkwardly, how she felt.  Snap-shot photographs of the last several months crashed through his mind as he watched with awe, this orchestration of birth.  Tears of relief and happiness streamed down his cheeks.  The silence was over!

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For the last two months of his life, he would have spells where something inside of him would cause him to cry out, almost scream with a nameless pain.  At first, they thought it was probably kidney-stones; then, they thought it might be his hips getting worse – they had known for years that they were bad.

Their veterinarian was businesslike in his description of a not-so-uncommon immune-disorder that affects older dogs.  This miracle-worker for animals went on to detail the possibilities of tumors, intestinal bleeders, etc., that could be causing the myriad problems.

After their dog was on mood-altering, immune-system-enhancing medications for about four or five weeks, they came home one day to find the evidence of internal bleeding in several locations throughout the house and yard.

One more trip to the vet.  One last trip to the vet.  The doctor explained how there was really nothing he could do to fix their dog.  There was nothing he could do to restore sound health to this old man of a canine they called their pet.  It was time for him to go on – to go wherever it is that old dogs go when they die.  After that last injection, that last yelp, that last beat of his heart, he just lay there.  He was gone.

Normal sounds of life still ring throughout their home.  The children and the other animals are still there; the planet hasn’t ceased its orbit; life still goes on, but…it is quieter than it used to be.  He doesn’t follow the man up the stairs or down the stairs, out into the yard or around the yard and back into the house again.  He’s not there waiting for a morsel to drop to the kitchen floor, not there to nudge a hand for some love.  No longer is he heard breathing, lying next to the bed at night.  They still step over his sleeping form when they get out of bed, but he’s not there. He is gone.  Except for the quaking in his master’s heart, he is silent.

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One could describe her life as very busy.  There was seldom time for her and her husband to be alone.  Hell, there was rarely a minute that she had to herself without interruption, without someone or something demanding her attention.  Managing a house-full of children and pets, attending the university with a full schedule and perfect grades while holding down a full time job required an enormous amount of time.  A full life.  One with many facets.  One with many colors.  A life with many concerns.

Not a torment, but a near constant preoccupation with the deeper, heart-wrenching aspects of other people’s lives filled her mind.  The lives of children.  Not only her own kids, but the rest of them too.  The ones whose lives were documented in the newspapers and chronicles of the day.  Children whose lives were put to paper in big binders with case numbers attached to them.  Innocent ones whose lives were casually thrown away by the give-a-damn adults who ran the world.  These were the ones who filled her mind.

Most disconcerting to her was the fact that she could not do much for these children at the time.  She still had to finish school.  Until it was over, she was bound to her current occupation.  Nowhere else could she make the kind of money she did and nowhere else could she have the time off from work to do the things she wanted to do.  Essentially, she was indentured to her meaningless, mindless, of-no-consequence job.  She would continue to be a flight-attendant until she had reaped every possible benefit from the company while pursuing her goal; until school was over.

From her occupation, one would be inclined to think that she liked dealing with people.  One would think she was a people-person.  One would also think she enjoyed the hundreds of faces and personalities she ‘mingled’ with every day at work.  One could not be more wrong.  She thought people were okay in the right setting, but not in those amounts and not in the confines of an airplane.

Where is refuge when one is inside a Boeing 737, traveling at 535 mph, at 35,000 feet?  Where does one hide from the constant analyzing, discriminating and stereotyping eyes of everyone aboard the plane?  Where does one go to flee the leering eyes of half-drunk, red-blooded males?  Where does she go to escape?  She locks herself in the bathroom.  In that closet-sized hideaway, she finds solace from the airborne hundreds.  She mutters oaths at the closed door and cries tears of anger and frustration in the company of her only friend, the woman in the mirror looking back at her.  Aboard the plane, locked in the bathroom, she finds it.  It has been there waiting for her.  It removes her from the meaningless chores and takes her home, if only for a few minutes, where she is important, where she is loved.  In spite of the engine noise and the storm of people on the other side of the door, it is there.  She has found her silence.

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They arrived on a Thursday afternoon in the last week of January.  Nobody answered their knock at the door, but they knew where the extra key was hidden, so they let themselves in and made like they were home. In a sense, they were.  This was where she had spent the last several years of her childhood and this was where they had started their courtship.  Now, this was their haven from the adult world.  They felt safe here.  It was always a pleasure to come home after being away.

He went to visit some friends for a while and she stayed there with the kids, recuperating from the trip.  After a bit, her sister came home from school and there was the usual heartwarming reunion that made the long drive worthwhile.  It was so good to be home!

An hour or so later, he came home and went out to the shop to put together some toys that her mom had bought for the kids.  Meanwhile, the older son was out in the acre, beyond the walled-in back yard, playing with his trucks.  The younger son was following her and her sister around the yard and house, visiting and wondering at all the things that fascinate two-year-olds like himself.  The phone rang and she and her sister went inside.  In what may have been minutes later, the older son called from outside the gate for his dad to come and let him into the yard.

Leaving the shop, where he was still working on the toys, he noticed the big-wheel floating upside down in the pool.  He let the older son into the yard and then went to see if he could reach the toy – floating out there, near the middle of the pool.  He noticed that the big-wheel was just sitting there, upside down, not moving and not causing even the slightest ripple in the water.  Just sitting there.  Suddenly, everything was quiet.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something floating near the opposite side of the pool.  Not something, but someone, a very small someone, face-down in the pool.

Rushing to the other side, he noticed again the stillness of the pool.  How long had his little one been there?  What period of time would it have taken for the water to calm after he had ridden the big-wheel into the pool?  How many minutes had his son been floating there in that god-damned silent pool?  Where was the noise that water is supposed to make when someone falls into it?  Why didn’t he hear the silence of the big-wheel?  Why in the hell wasn’t he watching his son?

No!  What would he do without his son?  It wouldn’t be the same.  Life would never be the same.  No!  He couldn’t die!  He fought the numbness in his mind and began to do what he’d studied so many times in the past.  Just last month he had taken a refresher course and he specifically remembered not to breathe too hard into his baby’s mouth.  Pounding on his back as if there was something stuck in his throat, he cursed and prayed for him to come back.  God, how long did this take?  Over and over again, breathe into his mouth, not too hard.  Push onto his tiny chest.  Now flip him over and pound on his back some more.  Come on!  Breathe!  Please, come on!  Yes!  Cry!  That’s it!  That’s it!  Breathe!  Come on – that’s it, cry, come on!  Damn the silence – Cry!

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The excitement of graduation night paled somehow in comparison to the spectacular event that would take place the next morning.  She and her family were going up north for a vacation and they had asked him to go with them.  Each of her sisters was bringing a special friend – and she invited him, her special friend.  The trip was a graduation present from her parents.  As a family, they had been to the lake several times in the past, so they knew he would enjoy it.

They left home early in the morning, hoping to reach the lake with enough daylight remaining so they could work on the boat when they got there.  In return for letting them borrow the houseboat, her mom’s boss had asked them to replace the carpet and fix some things that needed to be repaired.

The six-hour drive seemed to pass in less time than it actually took.  New scenery and friendly conversation caused the miles to slip away without notice.  Before he knew it, they arrived at the lake-town, located the boat and started to work.

With all of the work completed and only an hour of daylight remaining, they set off to find a suitable spot to spend the night.  When they pulled away from the marina he turned around and looked at the sky.  It had been brushed with magnificent hues of orange, yellow, rose and gold. This sunset would have made the sun-god proud.

The whole experience was an adventure to him.  In his seventeen years he had never been on a vacation with anyone other than his own family.  Now, he was there, at the lake, with his girlfriend and her family preparing to enjoy one of the most memorable events of his life – ten days on a houseboat with absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy life and its offerings.

Their days were filled with leisure.  They would cruise through the waterways of the lake’s filled canyons staring in awe at the massive boulders and rock lining their passage.  At different times of the day, they would pull over to the bank, tie up the boat and go hiking.  Climbing the rocks to the highest point they could reach and then just sitting there, admiring it all, wondering at the forces that combined to create such a marvel.  Other times, they would get out the inflatable rafts and go off by themselves, paddling along, enjoying the theater of nature before them.  Whatever they wanted to do, they did.  Sleep, eat, drink or swim.  Whenever they wanted to do these things, they just did them.  No schedules were allowed.

One of the best things about the whole trip was the time the two of them had together. Uninterrupted, they could talk for hours.  If there was nothing else to say, they would sit in the quiet splendor of their retreat and simply be together.  Saying nothing, just being together.  Near enough to touch, near enough to feel each other’s spirit within them.  A time of true communion.

At night they would lie next to each other on the roof of the houseboat and watch for stars shooting across the sky.  They felt as if they were in a cathedral, looking up past the darkness of the canyon walls to see the ceiling of stars overhead.  It was truly a magnificent sight.  The greatest artist ever commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling would have balked at the thought of trying to recreate the incredible brilliance of this heavenly portrait.

To say it was quiet on the lake would be an understatement.  Barring all other experiences from their memory, this place would be the origin of silence.  There were no clocks or schedules on the lake.  There was no screaming society telling them what to do and when to do it.  Silence ruled…and because it ruled, they were free.

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Once again, I do not believe true silence exists.  For a hearing person, I do not believe there is a condition possible where there is absolutely no sound.  We can only recognize the shadow of silence, its image.  Whether it is tarnished or golden, blatant or subtle, mediocre or spectacular, the silhouette is what we call “silence.”

*****

This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.

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8 responses

  1. Powerful words–the beauty and terror of silences.

    February 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    • Thank you, Lilly…and yes, the beauty and terror….

      February 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

  2. Scott, I am stunned and close to silent after reading this. I really, really, really hope this was not about you and that was not your boy in the pool. I am actually kind of emotional about all this. I would tell you I liked this quite a bit, it was beautifully written and poignant but I also am traumatized. Guess that makes it a powerful piece.
    If that was your son…….I am more sorry than I can tell you. Kind of heartbroken.

    February 18, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    • Dear friend Mike…yes, that was my son…when he was almost two. He just turned 29 on the third of this month…and he’s quite an amazing person. Just graduated from BMW technician’s school, top of the class. The incident happened in January and the very cold water is probably what saved him from further harm.

      Thank you for your sentiment, your precious words.

      February 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      • Thank you for this quick response as I really have been a mess since reading that. I am SOOOOOOOOO happy that he survived and you have had him to love and care for. You know I wrote that story about finding Matt when he was lost at age 3, and then I read your amazing post and now I know how you must have connected to my story. Good! Marvelous! Wonderful!

        February 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

        • You’re welcome, Mike. I’m sorry you were so distressed…but yes, so good that he survived and is doing so well. And you are right, I did connect with your story about Matt…it resonated deeply about the possibility of permanent loss, grief, regret…shame. Thank you again, my friend. 🙂

          February 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm

  3. Joy

    I am truly at a loss for words… each story held me captive–entranced–definitely on pins and needles! I suppose that sounds silly, but they did.

    February 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    • Well thank you, so much, Joy…what a nice comment…thank you. 🙂

      February 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm

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