There was a fire at a neighbor’s house today. In fact, the fire department is still on the premises as I write this. It is now 3:03 in the afternoon. It all started a bit over an hour ago. I just realize that this is the first time in what seems like months that I pause from my work for a full hour and just sit here, with an empty mind. Until a few minutes ago.
The sun is shining. I do not know the details. I spoke with the homeowner earlier, just moments after he had dialed 911. The look in his eyes was unlike anything I have ever seen. I felt like reaching out and crying. Then I felt incredibly calm and silent. There was nothing I could do.
Now, my thoughts are not quite focused on the things we lose in life, as I imagined they might be. Instead, the importance of silence seems to be the message here.
I was thinking about this earlier today. For some reason, at this time in my life, though maybe it is not a matter of timing at all, I seem to be eager to listen more than I am eager to speak.
There have been hints that it should be that way. Today is a hint, somehow. Another hint came when a friend who recently lost someone very close to him was telling me about an especially difficult moment, a few days ago, when he needed to share some thoughts and a person who was present at the time kept cutting in. Not on purpose. We are all clumsy when it comes to listening to others’ pain. But he made a good point when he observed, “I just needed to be heard. I did not need a conversation.”
This is about being, and being is silent. I saw the look in my neighbor’s eyes earlier and I knew he just needed to be in the moment. Alone. The other members of the family soon arrived, one by one. They needed the time alone, together.
We often jokingly say, “You are not the center of the universe, you know!” There is another side to this. When jarring events collapse everything around us, or at least everything as we know it, we are the center. These moments create a sort of suction that draws everything back to us and in the midst of voices, even total chaos, all we hear is silence.
We need this silence. It is the center; the solid ground from where we can take the next step.