An Hour of Silence

We sit there silently, staring off into space. The benches all face the middle of the room, keeping us centered. Occasionally a baby cries or someone sneezes. The room smells of must that people have tried to cover up with cheap air fresheners. There is a spot of light moving on the wall, most likely reflected from someone’s watch. The small, round stained-glass window near the top of one wall casts light on the small area at the center of the room that is free of benches. Some people look at this. Others look out the window at the cars that whiz by. Some find comfort in the faces of others in the room.

There are small children scattered all over the room, obviously not happy to be here. They speak in whispers meant to be silent but audible throughout the room. They ask their parents for the time. They wave to their friends and mouth words of greeting.

There have been several messages already, and meeting has not yet reached the halfway point. This surprises many; facial expressions mirror their feelings. When the speaker rises all attention is turned toward him. People who were lost in their thoughts are brought back to this world for a few moments. Parents make sure their children look up from their books to be polite, but the speaker would not have known either way—his eyes are shut in an almost meditative trance. His words flow not from him, but through him. He sits.

The halfway point has been reached; the small children leave with a few adults. There are a few moments of pure silence. The whispering has abated, the children are now downstairs, and their songs rise up to the room through the floor. Some parents recognize their children’s voices and smile.

The room is much sparser now. The absence of faces to look at has left many people searching the walls and ceiling. The small cracks in the walls, the stained-glass window with one piece missing, and the rafters with intertwining beams all receive scrutiny. The remaining occupants of the room are not all familiar with each other. Most know each other only by name or face, but now they are bonded together with the silence, a bond that is much stronger and more material than that of words. Words are not always true, but silence never lies.

Now a voice is heard from the back corner. A deep, raspy voice begins to sing in a language that is foreign, perhaps Hebrew. It is a sad, mourning song. The song must not be foreign to some because soon others are joining. A high voice sings harmony. More join in. A round is formed. Shalom, shalom one group calls. Shalom, shalom another group responds. Hair is on end as the beautiful, sometimes harsh harmony fills the room. It is full, but more is being forced in. The sound is like a death march as still more people join the round. Just as ears feel about to burst one group drops out, then another.

Again it is silent. This time it is a much more solemn silence. The air seems stale and hard to breathe. The world is spinning, the song still rings. People sit on the edge of their seats, obviously very moved. Then, like a dam bursting, the tension is released. People shake hands. Meeting, unlike the dead, has risen.

Brendan Flanagan

Brendan Flanagan, a student at the College of William and Mary, was born into Brooklyn (N.Y.) Meeting and attends Langley Hill (Va.) Meeting.