A short story.
Arrayed in Silence I Gave Him Nothing
Arrayed in silence I presented myself before him. He was infinitely patient but his eyes yearned to know.
“I can wait forever if necessary,” he gently said with a smile.
I gazed levelly into his eyes but gave him nothing.
After some time he smiled again and said, “Let’s talk about your family.” And he did. He knew I wanted to know about them, anxious for information and meaning, and these he supplied freely. He spoke of their fears and hopes and dreams and especially of their deaths. Some of the ways of their dying I knew–knew all too well–but others I did not. He spoke straightforwardly and in detail, always with immense compassion and empathy.
“Let’s talk about how you left things,” he suggested. I was more hesitant to hear about this, but he was supremely non-judgmental, even easy-going as he narrated key events in my life. My financial affairs had been well-arranged before I left (such as they were) and he provided numerous examples of my charitable living and giving. It was a thrill, actually, how easily they came to mind, as if each event had just occurred, still hot, fresh, and, alive. Other events were not so thrilling to remember but he related these with kindness: I had lazily put aside several unmet responsibilities; I had never apologized nor sought forgiveness for many acts of unkindness. My son and I hadn’t been on speaking terms for years before I left; I was more to blame for that final altercation than he, and I knew it. Oh, the regret. These were as painful and vivid to remember as the pleasant memories were joyful. But being able to really listen to them connected together as parts of the whole story of my life for the first time; that was genuinely lovely, and, strangely, healing.
“We both know what comes next,” he softly said after the next silence had set in.
I gazed at him steadily. I had decided long ago what I would like do in this moment. For a long time I could only think about it triumphantly, arrogantly, covered over in sheets of rage. I wanted it to be mine to tell or not to tell and no one, not even he, especially not he, would get to have it. As time passed, however, the rage had been replaced by quiet pain. Even after I had resumed speaking to him, after my long absence, the pain remained, a familiar, hollow wound, as if it had always been a part of me, deep inside, no different or less essential than an arm or an ear. My desire had not changed in all that time, foolish and unrealistic though it might have been.
He already knew all this, of course. He knew what had happened, how it had affected me, and what I would have liked to do about it. Yet he waited with a surprising urgency, an unmistakeable anticipation.
I did not respond. The moment had arrived but my heart failed me. He already knew. And I was just tired, tired of having lived with this for so long, tired of obsessively and single-mindedly devising what I would say on our first face-to-face encounter. No, let him speak. He could tell me what I felt, what I experienced, I didn’t care.
“Of course I witnessed all that occurred,” he finally said. “I was with them, in this way, as they died, and with you in the aftermath. And I know something of what you would like to say.”
Yes, you know everything, I bitterly thought. I already knew that. This entire exercise was so pointless.
“What I ask for only you can provide,” he admonished. “If I thoroughly knew all there was of this gift, if it was truly familiar to me, it would no longer be yours to give. This part I cannot know.”
A few more moments of silence. “You believe I know ‘everything,’ ” he responded to my unasked question. “Every thought, every intention, every happening, the meaning of it all.”
He smiled knowingly, as if he had heard this countless times. “I know everything that is needful for me to know. And everything Life is willing to freely impart to me. That is all that you need to understand for now.”
I almost exclaimed in my surprise, and glanced away from him. Could it truly be possible? I had never dared to believe it was; it had never even occurred to me. There was nothing about myself I could tell him that he didn’t already know, know and understand in ways that even I could not. That was basic. Every child knew it. My own indictments against him depended on it. And yet, he seemed to be saying that this, the innermost part of me, the part of myself I could choose to reveal or not reveal to others but never to him, concealed until I summoned it to the surface, was hidden from his eyes. Apparently, possibly, it was all different now. Everything was new. The old rules no longer applied. So much to say. An entire universe of sobbing questions and screaming rage.
I looked back at him with fire in my eyes, tears streaming down my face. How could it happen? I thought. And to BOTH of them? They were just children!! And I was supposed to be able to protect them! How could you give them something I was helpless to protect them from?! They KNEW I couldn’t do anything! They PLEADED with me, damn you! And they SAW how helpless I was! They saw it with their own eyes and understood! That was the worst part–they understood that ‘I’ didn’t understand, and they didn’t know what to do with that.
My own thoughts pulled me up short. Had it really been about me all along? Was I that self-absorbed, that the events of my children’s deaths mattered so intensely only because of how they had affected me? What about them? There were some days when I could not bear to watch their suffering, when I hid from them behind a crumbling wall of irrelevant responsibility for this or that, somewhere else I had to be, anywhere else but under the merciless heat of their agonizing cries. My cowardice murdered me every day afterward, because of that. Because I couldn’t bear to be with them in every moment. I wept again, thinking now how horribly important my own pain had been to me, when I should have been everything for them. I, too, shared in the miserable failure of the gods.
I looked back at him. His eyes were pained, his cheeks stained red from streaks of tears. I hadn’t noticed that until now; he had been silently weeping as he watched me struggling with myself. I didn’t care. The least he could do was weep.
Overcome, I turned around, my back to him. I couldn’t face him. Eventually, I thought to myself, I discovered the worst thing about you. My greatest, most terrible revelation, a Hammer of the Gods if there ever was one. Worse than mutilated, starving bodies and burning children and watching your little ones die slow deaths that grind their minds into oblivion before the end, and all unrelenting suffering of the vilest sort. Do you know what that worse thing is? I silently asked. I wondered if he really did.
What is worse by far than all of that is that you steal from us our own words and meanings, our own broken responses and halting half-answers and frantic explanations for the horrors of the world, and replace them with nothing. We believe that you know all, and so there is nothing we can tell you, not really, nothing that you haven’t perfectly anticipated or seen in the moments of their creation. Of course, most of what we do think is pathetically short-sighted, in any case, because we have a ‘limited perspective.’ We beg on our knees for revelation, and you give grand visions to prophets and holy men, while the rest of us are delighted to be told where to find lost trinkets and, occasionally, what poor soul in our neighborhood needs a hot meal or a friend. Yes, sometimes your still, small voice helps us to save lives, including our own, or gives us inspiration that helps us to crawl forward just a bit further before death, trickles of water poured over a dying man in the desert. Of course, your weak voice must be too still and too small to prevent the rest of the endless catastrophes that destroy lives and wreck the survivors. But, infinitely worse, you wrench from us our ability to tell the universe, each other, ourselves, what happened, to write our stories across the skies as if they actually matter, as if we could send our own revelations hurtling back to heaven in resounding response and you would actually learn something from us about what it’s really like to be stranded on this miserable rock in the galactic middle of nowhere. But they don’t matter, because there our stories are, in that vast omniscient repository of All Knowledge, waiting for us to open our mouths, then cutting us short with our own words, flinging them back at us because they’ve already been told, already been known, already been filled and fitted with meaning.
So here I stand before you at last, after a lifetime of waiting, eagerly willing to throw THAT greatest of all injustices back in your weeping face, this hot burning mass of infinite justice, coming for you, more powerful than the raging fire of a trillion suns, and nothing can stop it, not even you can prevent it, especially not you, for there is nothing you can say to empty it of its perfect strength, and in the end the most you, the greatest of all, can muster in your immortal majesty will be to say, ‘I knew this would happen. I already know your heart. I already know your words. I already know that you have gathered all this from the distant corners of all Creation in one final assault against me. Nevertheless I love you and have been with you and I want you to come home and be with me again.’ But that very knowledge is your own undoing. That precise knowledge welds the killing tip to the spear of the death knell of your divine glory, and you stand condemned as the most vile Monster in all existence, that detestable thing that, like a terrible Atlas, holds the nightmares of Hell on its shoulders while it rapes the children of creation by violating them of the birth of their words and their hard-fought meanings, telling them you know better about their sufferings than they do because you can see parts of their souls they cannot see. You walk in the most secret and sacred gardens of our hearts where even we cannot walk, at least not for a long time, some of us never, and when we finally reach them after much travail and suffering, ragged with weariness, we find that you’ve already been there, the paths covered in your footprints, your name etched like graffiti into the walls, claiming our innermost depths as your own territory.
So go on. Tell me you were there too, suffering beside me, neck deep in the blood and mud of your creation, shaken and wracked by its cries. All of your fellow-suffering cannot touch the injustice of this, the deprivation of my innermost self, your unwillingness to have me genuinely reveal myself to you, and for you to receive me as if I truly did. No matter your own overtures on behalf of humankind, you stand condemned of murdering our humanity, and we mortals are no more than the undead to you, who presume to unashamedly gaze into every nook and cranny of our being, denying us our own creative life, turning us into mindless things, always and forever helpless before the hopeless siren call of your perfect knowledge.
I bowed my head wearily and closed my eyes. I had daily played out this moment in my mind for decades, until it had all but consumed me. I hadn’t known exactly what I would say; that had changed numerous times over the years: blaming him, blaming his “Plan,” screaming near-incomprehensible obscenities, asking coldly rational, indicting questions, collapsing into his arms, sobbing uncontrollably. But everything was different now. What if I said this to him, the world’s megaphone to a deaf God? But I said nothing. And waited.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke.
“I have witnessed every moment of your life, it’s true. Every moment of history has been mine to behold. But the nature of my knowledge, as well as its relationship to my purposes and even–especially– my own feelings about all of it have been vastly misunderstood by most. I know you are curious about the long genealogy of this misunderstanding, but I also know that that is not what is most important to you right now. In time, you will learn, in any case.
“But now you want to know how my all-seeing gaze can pierce into the deepest depths of every living thing without violating Life itself, and its righteous insistence on revealing itself as itself for the first time, an infinite occurrence of first times. The answer is that I cannot do any such thing, and in fact recoil at the very thought. There is much I know of you, it is true, gleaned from long eons of walking with you, conversing with you, observing your lives before, during, and now after the brief period of mortal life. There is even much I know about you that you don’t fully understand about yourself, or have forgotten, but not because I have forced my gaze into your soul against your will. Most of this is data, information from long persistent observation. What I know of who you really are, of the depths of your inner worlds and the secret chambers of your heart is only what you have been willing to impart to me, as a gift freely given.”
He paused for a moment. I turned back around to see his eyes gazing off at something somewhere beyond me, as if remembering something nearly overpowering. Softly, he continued. “I often hear it said that atonement is incomprehensible. This is not quite right. To be at one with another is inexhaustible of comprehension; what is learned is Truth, but what is learned and experienced is never total, never the final understanding or the ultimate solution to anything. This is why at-one-ment is infinite, not because it is impossible to understand or merely because it covers all, but because it is a mutuality of hiddenness and intimate revealing that is never-ending, the eternal dance of Life-Givenness. Atonement is the eternally resolute insistence on Life. And where there is Life, there I am.”
He now looked directly at me. I would have to take his word that he could not see into my soul because it felt for all the world at that moment that he could. Calling me by name, he said, “Love is many things, but among the most important of these is this: Love is the revealing of Life to itself, the willing and eager uncovering of Life to that which has Life. In this way all life is prayer, the surging restlessness of trillions of beings opening and revealing that which is hidden–hidden always and forever until revealed–by invoking the other, calling out–to cells, trees, animals, the earth, the stars, persons, God–look! here I am, an offering of a secret freely revealed, naked and unashamed, seeking love and safety. And Life lives because to give in such a way is to risk rejection of the gifts offered, which is death.
“You have sought revelation from me; I also seek it from you. I do not know the depths of your heart until you give it to me. I have given you mine, in oh so many ways, some of which I know you now understand, and others for which you yet lack the eyes to to see. But there are no gifts where one can walk where the other has not permitted, taking what he will. The meanings for which you have paid such a dear price are real, and are yours to give, and no meaning or interpretation is the last one, all-encompassing and final. And so I ask, in love, not justifying anything that happened to you or your children, not desecrating their memories with reasons and explanations–will you stay with me? Will you open your heart and share with me your inner self? Might we not share our meanings and experiences together, live in shared mutual love together with our families forever, and give one another the gifts of eternal lives?”
His voice was loving, pleading, and I looked away. I would like that, I thought. I was so tired, my old familiar burdens so heavy. But I had been through so much. I had lost so much. Even with nearly all of it restored in one fashion or another, my memories could not be changed or erased. I knew there was healing for my sufferings, but the traumas were still traumas, they still happened and would always have still happened. And despite the comforting relief of his words, I was was still angry. I was still hurt. Now I knew my anger was mine to keep if I so desired, and I wasn’t ready yet to give it up. But I would. In time I would freely give it away, I thought. His words had pierced me that far. And I knew he would willingly wait, that he would still be there when I was ready. There was hope where despair had long reigned.
But there was also something new–a firm resolve. I too was Life, a living being with secret chambers and hidden worlds, mine to reveal as I would. For so long his silence had pierced me to the core while I yet lived. For so long my cries of anguish and prayers of lamentation were prolonged in suffering and only the slow geology of years and distance had provided any relief. I had so many words, yet….they were unspeakable. His silence was piercing. Mine would be too. For now.
I sat down on the ground and calmly looked up. Arrayed in silence, I gave him nothing.