silent night

A man staggered into our house one night. The wind from the storm that was raging outside blew in with him.

“The last one is dead,” he gasped out, when he could speak.

“Who?” “The last one of what?” We all spoke at once.

He gulped for breath, and slumped into the place that was quickly made for him by the fire.

“The last one who remembered the old ways and spoke the old language. The language of the trees and animals, of the clouds and wind. Now there is no one left who can speak to them for us.”

There was a brief silence. Then someone said: “Well, we knew it was coming. They had been dying out for generations. We knew it would happen someday.”

“But…” said someone else, “what is it that will happen, or has happened, with this death?”

“I’m not sure,” said the first, “but I think—“

“Wait,” said another. “Listen!” From within the howling of the storm through the cracks in the windows and the crevices in the walls, another sound was beginning to emerge. It was like the mournful cry of an animal, in the depths of pain or loss. Then, rising slowly, other cries joined it: animals, birds, winds, waters—everything in the world that made a sound was crying out in what sounded to us like the most unbearable grief.

There was a great crescendo of sound, as if things we had never heard at all before: the moon and stars, trees, rocks, soil—had joined the chorus. We felt ourselves engulfed and pierced through with the strength of their grief. We hung our heads and sunk to the floor with the weight of it. Within us the inconsolable world opened a chasm of loss.

And then the sound stopped completely; it was gone. We waited and listened, but there was nothing. Absolute silence. It was terrifying. Those who dared to look out the windows thought for an instant that there was nothing outside at all, that the world had vanished and beyond the walls was an endless void.

But then in less than the blink of an eye or the beginning of a thought, the dark night-forms of the world were visible again outside the windows: the black silhouettes of rocks and trees against the dark sky strewn with shreds of cloud and the dim light of re-emerging stars.

Still the silence persisted. And as we began to murmur in wonder among ourselves, we realized that there was no other sound, not a single one. No sound but our voices. No other sound but our voices now and always, echoing inside the walls of our tiny house, the only shelter left from the world of silent forms.