The Silence is All That We Have

She was thirty-ish, and she worked for the same agency I do.  I knew her enough to nod as we passed, perhaps one of us would say something about the weather, or comment about how the week end was coming.

I was told that she went to the emergency room with a head ache.  She died there.  I found out she had a young child.

Left to my own devices, I would not have gone to her wake.

I had thought about it, and I had decided not to.  I told myself these stories about why I shouldn’t.  They were even true, almost.  Sort-of.

When my co-worker nudged me in that direction, I had to embrace the fact that there were stories about why I should go.  And these were more true.  And so I did.

We headed there.  And that was… a journey.    We are not detail guys, my coworker and I.  I think it is fair to say that we have more book learning than street smarts, more intellect than social ability.  The drive there, was an adventure, almost.  It is entirely possibly that we ended up laughing some, and finding ourselves in a highly ludicrous situation.   That is a story for another time.

When we arrived at the funeral home, the place that we were supposed to be, I doubted myself again, doubted the decision.  There were these sad people gathered outside.   Sad (or perhaps just empathic) workers by the double doors.  I thought about The Shining a little bit; the book and movie are built on the belief that places take on an echo of the emotions that are felt there.   Even if there had been nobody there, even if I didn’t know the person, even if you had hid the signs proclaiming the nature of the business done there…  I suspect a person might have sensed it: the sadness.

After skulking around, a bit, we made our way to the slow-moving recieving line.  It wound through the small rooms in the house.  When we entered the actual room, I was confronted with the realization that we would soon be facing what remained of her physical presence.  I could not yet see her, but on the other side: her family.  Siblings, parents, even a grandmother.  When I told the story later, my wife rightly observed: nobody should have to bury their grand-child.

And when it was my turn, I was confronted with the reality that it is so good and also so terrible, the way we come face-to-face with a body in an open casket.  A simple picture, rendered in crayon, was placed above her head, next to a photograph.  This perfect little boy was the subject of the photo, and presumably the artist of the picture.

What do you say?  This is the question that crashed into me as I approached the recieving line.  My natural awkwardness conspired with my desire to find words that help and heal, words that come from a place of wisdom and maturity.  Am I supposed to introduce myself?  Offer general condolences?  Specific thoughts?  I mumbled and murmered some kind of hybrid of all of these, and I felt an imposter, a fake, a hack.

Outside the house were some familiar faces; coworkers stood silently, together.  Some of them new her better than me.  Some of them were crying.  I took my place in the circle.  And I went looking for words.  I stood there in that silence and I realized something:

It was good that I was there.  I did not need to say anything… More than that, I should not say anything.  Not in that holy moment.

We stood in silence together.  Every word in that sentence is important: We stood in silence together.

That was the point: an object lesson, a lived demonstration: sometimes, there are no words.  Sometimes, all we can do is stand together in silence.  And that is enough because it is all that we have; it is enough because it has to be.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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