When Silence Sings

“‘You can listen to silence, Reuven. I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. I feel myself alive in it. It talks. And I can hear it.’

“‘You have to want to listen to it, and then you can hear it. It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes – sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it. It hurts to listen to it then. But you have to.’”

This is a quote from the novel The Chosen by Chaim Potok. The first time I read this dialogue, I ran straight to my sister and shoved the book in her face, gibbering incomprehensibly with excitement. Quite literally, might I add. I just couldn’t believe that somebody else could understand what I had thought all my life, had felt that beautiful yet tragic force and, furthermore, had called it the same thing: Silence.

There is another novel I loved when I was a kid (still do, actually), called How to Be a Dragon Without Burning Your Tongue. In it a character takes the MC to a beautiful valley and asks her if she can feel “forever” in it. I don’t have the book on hand, otherwise I would give you the exact quote. The description that Arlene Williams uses, though, fits the same description as Silence. It crops up in disguised forms in novels and music everywhere.

I grew up searching for Silence. It can be found in any created thing that has been crafted with sincerity. It whispers and it sings; it gives inanimate objects feelings and binds together all art—including and, in fact, especially nature. All my life I have been spellbound by its song. When I was little, it frustrated and perplexed me how so few people seemed to feel it too. At first I thought they couldn’t. The idea astonished me; I felt sorry for them and tried to show them how to listen to the hush of eternity. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that they could hear it just fine. They just didn’t want to.

This knowledge filled my young, prideful, and extremely idealistic self with disdain. Now that I’m older (still quite proud and idealistic, though, I must add), I understand. I didn’t want to admit it back then, but Silence frightens me just as much as it does anybody else. Tranquility is revealing. When I was small, I ignored the mirror of naked honesty that Forever held to my face. I closed my eyes and concentrated on filling myself with the rocking, humming warmth of its song.

Silence is painfully beautiful. In that place, you cannot ignore the hurts the world has suffered and is suffering; nor can you run from a personal call to selfless righteousness. The universe is wonderful, but it’s full of evil. It wasn’t meant to be so dark, and every strand and every atom is crying with the pain of the wrongness. That which is “bent”, as C.S. Lewis might say. When you really listen and really look, the twisted pieces in your own heart show their crooked faces.

If it ended there, Silence would be terrifying. But there’s another layer to the song. Silence opens up essence, Platonic forms, the way things were meant to be. It weeps, but it doesn’t lay its head down in despair. It calls, “This is what I am meant to be. This, right here. Now stand up and do your part. Do what is right; fight the wrongness; restore goodness and wholeness to every corner of life you touch.”

Don’t ignore the whisper of the light. Don’t close your ears to it or—worse yet, like I did, feast on its beauty while ignoring the reason. You don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to do anything spectacular or grandiose. Just keep your ear tuned to that thread of music that courses over the whole world, and don’t ignore its call of truth when it speaks to you.

Drowning in Roses and Moonlight (I Knew You There)

Four thousand, five hundred words into the re-write of the first chapter and the fat, splaying purposelessness of it all has ground me to a halt. This happens here, then that happens there. So what? At this point, if the sky caved in on the entirety of my world and all its inhabitants, I would shrug and close the door.

It took days of contemplation and blasting In Tenebris on my headphones to realize the issue: my protagonist. I don’t care about her. I don’t care about her because she isn’t who she’s meant to be.

Somehow, I tricked myself. The same outer appearance that my MC, Verity, shows to strangers has misled her own author. How to describe this? She is like a violin. On the one hand, you have the musicians in stiff white collars, playing sonatas at tea parties. And then there are gypsies dancing around the fire at midnight—that is Verity. Reserved, gentle, well-mannered, but deep within her spirit there is a burning love of life and a wildness. She has lost the dangerous edge of her passion.

Not only that, but the depth of the darkness within her sealed itself off from me. I am moving her, directing her, but I do not know her. She is like a porcelain doll.

Maybe I am worrying too much, trying to press it all into perfection. Into the press goes Verity, and she comes out like a teacup. No good. No good at all. It is like there is a glass shell of pride around her and she won’t let anybody in.

So what am I doing wrong here? I am making the reader view her like a stranger would, but why?

I think it is fear. If I let the reader inside Verity’s heart and head, they will know exactly what I mean to say. And if they know exactly what I mean to say, they’ll know exactly when I’m saying it wrong. The way Verity views the world paints my own loves and intentions clearer than I am comfortable with. She understands things too well.

I am afraid to lose myself in the fabric of my own world, to give in to that understanding. What if it isn’t what it’s supposed to be? Wouldn’t it be safer, more sensible, to hold the story at arm’s length and press into it the ideas I know it needs? I can see the entire book from here . . . I just cannot feel its breath.

There is no point in writing a book about overcoming fear and accepting the full exquisiteness of life if I hold back from bravery and beauty myself. I need to take a deep breath, trust myself, plunge into the madness of dreamer’s thoughts that is Verity’s head. Let go of reason, but keep my feet planted on it. There is truth and sense enough woven through the world that I will be able to see it without clinging to a handful of abstract rules for security.

It’s amazing how much better I can understand things when I write them; I know exactly what to do now. Tomorrow, I shall begin weaving my way through Verity’s mind. I would start tonight, but I’m really much too tired. Watching The Lord of the Rings and procrastinating all day can wear a person out.

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