Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lessons of Silence

It happened one day. When it started, we didn't notice. We must have gone through the day like any other - and perhaps unlike any other. We probably didn't notice even after a week. I don't know when it was a week later because I don't know when it started. But I know when it built up, when the silence became deafening.

It started out as something in the air. Something that felt off, no longer what we had always known, but what we couldn't quite place. Over time, the air became thicker with it until it started to crawl onto my skin, and I scratched to get it off. I wanted to scrape it off as one does a swarm of bullet ants, but it kept getting thicker and thicker, enveloping me, and eventually building a wall around me, around all of us.

After a while, it became normal - a part of our every day lives, like the furniture, a plant - something that wasn't even worth mentioning because it was with us all of the time. We didn't know that we could pierce through it by reaching out. It was easier to ignore, to pretend that it didn't exist.

There we would sit at dinner and talk - but only among us - and try not mind that our father had gotten more and more quiet over the years. We would talk, and he would often just nod in response. We would ask questions, and he would answer a yes or a no, but no more. Sometimes we talked at him. Every once in a while he would talk, but only to repeat his refrains, about school, about money, about the tidbits no one cared to discuss, like checking the stove before going to bed or setting the security code on the burglar alarm. But otherwise, we would talk among ourselves. And the day would pass by.

We understood some things. That this was the sound of a crushed dream. That this was the silence of the night because he had put all of his ambitions to bed. That he wanted to quiet his mind and no longer second guess whether he had made the right decision. That he had returned to a safe place from his childhood where silence had been his shield. And that this was how he preferred it now.

And under the weight of this silence, we desperately clung to our voices. I never let an argument pass without vocalizing my position, and I took unusual pride in my opinions. My sister took the other fork against silence - writing journal after journal, poem after poem. We are the fortress against the eerie silence that pervaded our house as we traversed from teenhood to adulthood, bypassing the silence that read the newspaper in the evenings, ate dinner with us every night, showered, went to bed, and even snored.


  1. These snippets of your life (real or unreal) are so incredibly moving. You are a great writer. But beyond anything your write, I admire you for having the courage to share so much. Your courage will enable you to go forward when you have self-doubt. Please don't ever give up your dream of becoming a mother. You will undoubtedly make an excellent one.

  2. Thank you so much for your encouragement. I have been amazed by all of the people who have taken the time to read my blog and to reach out to me. I have been so touched by these comments, and so many of them have lifted my spirits over and over again during the past few months. I feel incredibly blessed.

  3. You've heard this before, but I'm going to say it anyway. You write so well. I love reading your blog because reading a post feels like reading a good piece of short story. Your stories are told so gracefully and the nuances are felt just so. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. It's a real treat.
    This particular post reminded me of my parents' friends in NY who, after graduating from such schools like SNU or Yonsei, gave up their lives in Korea only to find themselves working in dry-cleaners, stationary stores, and delis. I hear in your voice such compassion that understands their pain. Again, thank you for putting yourself and your stories out to touch us readers with such beautiful language!!

  4. Hi, Wandering Ju,

    Thanks so much for reading. It means a lot that people reading these posts can relate. I know many KAs went through very similar experiences. And I think it's important that we have a place to affirm our experiences.

    I've also spent some time on your blog. I find your living in Israel fascinating. I'll be visiting your site regularly!