Thursday, January 8, 2015


I have been too long out of the academic world; my mind is no longer as attuned as it was to the theories and structures of silence. What I know, or think I know, is that silences - despite the best efforts of theorists - are uninterpretable.

There is a term in manuscripts for a missing portion of text or an unfilled space - it's referred to as a lacuna. It's a beautiful word for a gap; the Latin root is the same as that for 'lake,' a body of water that for me invokes memories of childhood and peace. Of course there are theorists who will spend whole books trying to measure this missing, trying to fill it in, wondering if it is there on purpose, by accident, or worn away through the abuses of time.

In the Psalms of David, there's another word "Selah." If I remember my Bible lessons correctly, "Selah" is somewhat like "amen" but more of an invitation to pause - to sit a moment in silence and let what preceded sink in - than an affirmation of what was said.

I tend to panic in silence - to imagine the worst. Not in the silence of a quiet evening at home, but in the silence of unanswered questions; of unmeasurable canyons. I fear the unknown and want the missing blanks filled in. I think the sea bottom is close enough to put my feet down, then realize I am out of my depth. Yes, I am a strong and joyful swimmer - but panic doesn't come from reality. Panic comes from not knowing.

I would prefer the other kind of emptiness - not the void but the luftpause, to  borrow the musical term. Here you may breath - you will be stronger after. Or, here you may breath, much more is coming. Come up from the music for air.

There are gaps and spaces. Missing words and invocations to breathe. The problem with silence is you can't know what kind it is until it's over. You can't know how long it will last until it is done. You can't know where the bottom is until your feet hit sand. Words themselves have endless play; silences stand unmoving.

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