A week ago, the block around the corner blew up. The blast was huge, rattled the dishes and sent everyone in the neighborhood running out front of their houses. We looked up for the planes but this was no 9/11 redo: Skies were blue and clear. We saw absolutely nothing and more importantly, heard nothing. Later, when I was told two young men were missing, I knew that silence was the sound of the dead.
Then the fire started and the neighborhood roared. At least 50 sirens moved towards 2nd Avenue, sounds growing louder and louder as ladder trucks came in from other parts of the city. People were burned and appeared to be dying. Two young men would not be found for many days. One was on a date, the other was a busboy. Neither were over 25.
Writing about a bomb blast is certainly easier than writing about that moment of silence that comes after great tragedy, that moment when the world makes no sound except to say: Look at this horrible horrible thing. Look what has happened. I always hear a cosmic disgust in that silence, God’s profound impatience that we don’t take more care of one another. After all, these boys died over a small hole in a gas line.
How to write that silence? I struggle. I once saw many bodies taken from the water and that same otherworldly quiet soaked everything. I heard the disgust in the air there too. The why. The how. The lack of care that led to this place and this moment and this scene. I could describe the victims, the noise of the boat going over, but the silence eluded me on the page then as well.
I’ve finally realized that silence is too big for me. I cannot capture the silence of the dead any more than I can know the mind of God.
But I tell you what, I am going to keep trying. That’s who writers are: People trying to understand that silence and put words to the meaning we know is there.