Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Every day we're loudly told to be quiet. "The Enemy's Listening," howls one poster. "Loose lips Sink Ships," shouts another.

They say silence is golden and I suppose that's mostly true. I confess that after months of Jane's domestic drama, Betty's catty grousing and Susan's mooning over first Grant and then Frank, I'm craving quiet. The rattle of the rivet guns is almost preferable to my co-workers' babbling.

But these days I find silence to be made of baser metal. Weeks crawl by with no news from Bob. Every day the paper's front page heralds the heroics and savagery in Guadalcanal and Stalingrad. Then the Times exhales, regains its composure and moves on to New Guinea on page two or three.

Of course I know those enormous battles in the Solomons and the Soviet Union are crucial to the generals. But here in one small bungalow under a towering old cedar tree in West Seattle, the most important fight's on a sultry island that exists for most Americans only on the pages of National Geographic. Somewhere over New Guinea my husband's hurling his plane around in dogfights while Japanese troops slash at the American and Australian forces below.

I keep silent, however. This war's given everyone a hard story to tell, and most are harder than mine. Millions can't tell stories at all because they're among the growing heaps of dead.

Tucked into my lunch kit is my copy of Beryl Markham's new book "West With the Night." I'm sitting out on the flightline on a break right now, under the last blue skies of summer, reading in the shade of a B-17's wing. I came across this passage today:

"There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in a forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with old dust upon its keys, or from anything that has answered the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice may be melancholy, but it is not always so; for the chair may have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstances, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo."

Whistle blows. Back to work.

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