A Chapter From Small Town Roads - Xulon Press - Christmas 2016
We don’t have to speak for our intentions to be read.
We don’t have to speak for our intentions to be read.
Speech seems like a simple thing, a coordination of muscle and bone, nerves and tongue, something within us, just as the ability to control and guide both weapon and machine lay slumbering within the wrists and hands. We can stay silent, but the words are still there.
Man experiences things of great magnitude and cannot speak of them at all. An artist or craftsman creates something that was part of them, honed into art or machine. On completion, they say no words, they call no one, and they simply put down their tool, their brush, and stare at their vision, incarnate.
Veterans come home from battle empty of all words, bound together by only that identical experience which they can never forget and dare not speak of, lest by speaking of darkness, they are wrapped in its chains. First responders and law enforcement officers often relate as they too see so much death that never again, as long as they breathe, will they ever truly go to sleep alone.
Man experiences the mundane, the meaningless, tweeting and texting of it feverishly. It is as if, by doing so, inconsequential acts become more than the passing of time by the imminently bored. The words can uplift but they can also sting like so many insects, their incessant noise, finally dimming to a hum.
We speak in different languages, and even when speaking the same language, we often don’t communicate, and when we do, we often don’t truly mean what we say. Promises can be nothing more than words and oaths empty air, especially when election times near, wherein contests of fierce and empty oratory are somehow, retroactively, supposed to make us believe, any more than they can make us forget.
We speak in the language of the past, chants unchanged in generations hanging in the air as God is placed into a golden cup, there underneath the eyes of angels. We speak in the language of silent prayer, calling upon God and our reserves, saying prayers without words, as we draw near our weapon as we enter what could be hell on earth.
Words can support, they can heal, with gentle utterance after a nightmare in the still of the night, the soothing voice that smoothes the frayed edges of a day with nothing more than the touch of supple prose. Words can injure, cutting like a knife, discharging like a spark of electricity, those words, from someone we love, marking us always with their wounding.
Words, a movement of lips and tongue that can cause laughter or pain; that can divide or conquer. Even in a nation where English is the official language, in parts of our country, there are whole neighborhoods where you won’t hear it spoken.
Sometimes one doesn’t need to speak at all.
On any given day, tragedy and the earth collide, flood, tornado, the plunging of a mighty machine into a peaceful neighborhood. The details differ, but the response is always the same. When disaster strikes, the land itself turns mute and those that remain, stand simply as silent instruments unable to make a sound.
I didn’t fully understand that until the tornado came through our town last night, leveling several homes a mile or so north, leaving others, like mine and most of my neighbors, miraculously standing. We were lucky, in that there were no deaths, the majority of the homes having basements and a good tornado warning system. But as we came up from our basement, our house untouched but for a tree that took out the front porch, it was as if what I viewed was a completely different town.
Harry, my elderly friend from across the street, was on the sidewalk, Evelyn holding on to him, shaken but unhurt. Ezekiel and Miriam waved from down the block, his shop roof damaged but the structure intact. But just down from Harry’s home, Betty, the widow that lives there stood in front of what remained of her house of 60 years. It was one set further back from the road than the others, the back portion of the house completely missing its roof and some walls, not even a photo of her failed dreams, left where the wind rushed through those rooms. She cried silently, in the faded robe she fled in, as one of the neighbors came over and put her arms around her. Behind all of the homes across the street from us, there were so many trees downed, limbs flung through windows, shattering them as if they were thrown like a lance.
A young woman, her face growing older by the minute, stumbled from the walkout basement of the home that had sold when I moved in, a solitary figure, clutching only a stuffed animal, making a path towards what is known. Her brother, off in military service, was letting her live there to care for the place while she attended a community college in a town not too far east of us. We beckoned her to come over to us, and though I am probably only ten years older than she, like Evelyn does with me, I hold her in a mother’s protective embrace.
The older couple from the corner of the block lost a brand new outbuilding they had painstakingly constructed behind their house. They now could only look at the work of their sweat and tears strewn about for miles by the force of nature, the wind thick and warm, like blood spilled, pooling around what little remains. A lone tree stood among so many that were downed, torn out by the roots, its nervous branches bent down as if hoping not to be noticed.
The first responders arrived, standing for just a moment, still and mute, hands unmoving beneath the invisible stain of what was, always, needless blood. For just a moment they stopped, as if by whispered breath or the movement of disturbed air, what little remains, would crumble.
They gathered, moving in and around, the firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, wearing blue and black and yellow. Such garments, solemnly worn, exchanged for lives that used to be ordinary, worn as they shape something from chaos, coercing that terrible blood wind to give up a sound, the forlorn echo of someone who might have survived underneath the carnage. I waved at an officer I worked with, seeing the relief in his eyes that I was unhurt, feeling like I should be doing something more to help. I realized that I was still in shock as I held my neighbor to me to comfort as beneath my bathrobe my precious child lay safe.
It’s surprising how much noise there was in the silence, of hope, of grief, of disbelief. It was a sound which one could almost, but not quite, capture, receding like dwindling song until there were only the shadows and the quiet. And then a small voice, “Can anyone help me?” low and faint as the Vespers of sleep. It came from a home that didn’t have a walkout basement, and a tree had gone through the sunroom. I had been there, and that would have blocked the basement stairs. Hopefully, the person is fine and can get out once the tree was moved.
Survivors and saviors, moved without sound, sending a message as loudly to the heavens as if they were one voice. People were helped from the rubble, the injured accessed, the grief-stricken comforted as best as one could, if only by a touch that resonated straight to the heart, bypassing a brain that could not accept its fate. There were no Teleprompters, there were no cue cards, and there were no words for boundless grief and regret. There was no language for this, no word, no sound; it’s defiant and imminent life, holding on.