The final power of silence

Among the gravestones yesterday on a grey morning, the final symbolic act of a long friendship took place.  The return of keys to my apartment.   It was done quietly, with a polite text, a short affirmative reply and the silent handover at the small New Jersey cemetery, during a funeral.  Fittingly very close to the open grave mourners were shoveling dirt into.  Now life goes on.  I no longer have to worry about how crazy my longtime close friend is or what mad act of frustration the poor, tortured devil might be capable of.   When trust is gone, that’s the ballgame.

Preceding this final moment there were long stretches of silence.  Imagine posing a question that vexes you, that you need an answer to from someone who claims to love you.  “Can you understand why that would be so upsetting to me?” for example.  Now, picture silence, in the moment, accompanied by a bland look, then turning away.  The silence stretches into days, weeks, months, a year.   “Do you get why your silence is hurtful to me?”  A long interlude of no reply, no word, no indication of anything.  

Finally you might hear “can’t we just pretend none of this ever happened? Can’t you just move on, like a big boy?   We know you had a rough childhood but why must you live in the past and continue to blame us for what you claim we did to you?”

“You’d like me to pretend you never hurt me, never dismissed my feelings, never returned my patience and concern with accusations and threats, never abandoned me when I needed help, that I’m prepared to tolerate this treatment on an ongoing basis, for the sake of… what shall we call it?  Your need to feel good about yourself, and that you are always right and a good person and all the rest?”

Of course, at this point they will become angry again, probably a few words into your statement.  The tone of reproach, and appeal to fairness, the intolerable insolence of it will enrage them. 

In the end, the greatest gift they can give you is their silence.  They might break it at an odd hour to confront you directly about how cruel and unloving you are being to them, pretending to be hurt by mere silence and torturing them over it by your stubborn refusal to accept no answer as the final answer. 

The final silence will continue until you have processed the last of your hurt, betrayal, confusion, anger and so on.   Then it just blends into the rest of this often irrational, noisy circus that is our life here, among those doomed, just like us, to breathe their last one day.

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