The Deadly Silence
There is an experience that is common to those who visit the site of an atrocity.
No matter the scale, great or small: whether it be Auschwitz in Poland; Montsegur in France; Sand Creek in Colorado or Salem in Massachusetts, many visitors are struck by one overwhelming sensation.
It is the silence.
A silence that is more powerful than any dirge or lament.
Passages always bring silence.
Unlike a ghost story, there is no presence. There is an absence.
An absence that is magnified by sheer numbers.
And, if the victims were sufficiently young, these silences are made deafening by the absence of the voices of succeeding generations; of the tens, hundreds, thousands or millions of voices that never were.
To those who experience such moments, and the waves of emotions that attend such moments, there may come a need that is not so easily met in our culture.
In other times, and other places, one cast one’s hood over one’s face.
Not simply to conceal a grief that might cheapen the moment; nor even, merely, to grant privacy to those so overtaken.
But to recognize a moment that must signal a temporary end to human communication.
In the face of the sacred, only God should speak.
Readers of history will recognize the names of the places that I have cited.
These were atrocities committed by white males, with an overt or covert agenda of cleansing Christian territory.
It is not for me to relate the experience of people who have been marginalized, silenced, oppressed or murdered by Christian zealots.
It is not for me, as a white Christian male approaching his twentieth anniversary in a heterosexual marriage, to speak for the women, for the gays and lesbians, for the discounted Christians, and for the members of other religions who have been consumed by the anger and fire of my Christian brothers.
It is not for me to do so, regardless of the fact that I represent an inclusive Christian website that operates under the banner of a Christian witness who is a woman.
For the experiences of these groups are sacred unto them.
It is for them to speak, and for me to listen, as best I can, through presence, discussion and reading, to whatever thoughts they choose to share with me.
I can stand shoulder to shoulder with them and advance the cause of inclusion. I can speak up, march, and do all of the doings that I can do, and I can be in relationship with them with all that I am.
But it is for them to speak of their experience.
It is for me to speak of my experience.
And to listen to the silence.
The two are connected.
Part of my heritage, as a privileged white guy, is to survey an imperfect world and whine to God about that.
From time immemorial, back through the Old Testament and beyond, we have bewailed the persistently sad state of creation.
We have pursued our righteous agendas with full vigor, and yet…
Why can’t somebody cure this disease?
Why can’t somebody solve this financial mess?
Why can’t somebody figure out a way to end this war?
Where are all the good ideas?
We mourn our dead and our wallets, and, if we are devoted to church or melodramas, we may ask:
Why don’t the good guys win?
If we are devoted to a more retro secular understanding, we may ask:
Why do I feel so alienated?
In the most private space of the privileged white guy comes the question:
Why am I so lonely?
And, in the question that must be finally denied or resolved with advancing years:
Why don’t things quite work?
We whine and whine and whine about the incompleteness and unfairness of it all; we have never ceased our whining to God about the imperfection of the world.
For we have tried so hard to tidy it up.
Indeed we have.
But would we understand if God directed our attention to our mass graves?
We have no cause for complaint.
I do not believe that we carry the sins of our fathers.
But I do believe that we may heap condemnation on ourselves by failing to recognize the consequences of those sins.
For the solutions to many problems, large and small, were lost in the ovens of Auschwitz, lost on the plains of Montsegur, lost on the banks of Sand Creek, lost on a raw hilltop over Salem harbor and lost, irreplaceably, in a million less conspicuous places.
The great minds, the visionaries, the scientists, doctors, artists, and peacemakers, gone, all gone, jumbled together with their lost ancestors and their lost descendents, in these and a million other places throughout the world.
If our whining reveals a self-centered attention that can only be caught by hitting it in it’s self-centered core, then so be it.
We have no cause for complaint.
For remedies have been lost in the silence.
When Job complained to God about his affliction, God asked Job:
Where were you when I made the world?
Quite obviously, we were not there.
If we had been there, we might have had more regard for what was being made.
And now, we are left behind in the silence.
Left behind, indeed, in spirit and in truth.
Left to contemplate those ripped-out holes in the fabric that binds us all together.
The desolation is ours.
Never can we complain, rightfully, about missing pieces.
Never can we complain, rightfully, of loneliness.
Gone, all gone.
I cannot live in those places.
But I believe that I must keep them in sight.
To keep me honest.
To keep me grounded.
I need not travel far to visit such sites; there are scenes of atrocity great and small in our homes, our neighborhoods, our towns, our families and our memories.
They are the places of silencing, oppression and murder.
That far corner of the kitchen, the bedroom, the locker room and the shack; the street corner, alleyway, staircase and town hall; the pulpit, the platform, the microphone and that small, deadly whisper…
The identity, the personality, the person, the contribution, the life…
Gone, all gone.
I can try to do all that I can do and be all that I can be, and yet…
I must revisit those places.
To know the absence.
To know that it belongs to me.
It is mine.
Join with me, if you choose.
Afterward, speak out, if you are so moved.
But in that small, deadly moment, keep the silence.
And cast your hood over your face.
I post new articles twice-monthly in "Author's Corner".
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion or prayer, please contact me at email@example.com. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
Toward Dawn is a privately-funded outreach, and it neither solicits nor accepts contributions.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over sixteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.