“…A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;…” – Ecclesiastes 3:7
The words hit me like the stark, blank-pastel green wall of the hospital room opposite my bed. It was 1963, and my bedroom was the ICU unit of the Deaconess Hospital. My playground was underneath the shelter of the clear plastic oxygen tent, reserved for children with pneumonia; mine the second in as many years as I was old. Later I would learn of my near death encounters with double pneumonia. There was no fear in my life back then. The concerns on the faces of the adults who came to see me only lit up when they saw my smile from behind the veiled curtain of fractured light. Even at that tender age, there was a lesson in leaving as my heart would break each time the goodbyes came. I didn’t understand why so often my visitor’s would leave, turning their heads, wiping something from their faces as they left my room, always as I watched their backsides leave through the door, my heart would sink.
The silence would return; silence that would feel like the weight of the world held it shut.
From the foot of my bed, the pump of the oxygen tank hissed, the only reminder of life beyond my own body. There was a lot of time for my toddler mind to wander, yet there was always a presence there with me; call him my guardian angel. He would sit with me and warm me when the room would turn bitter cold, he would dry the tears from my eyes as I often recalled those faces from my short span of life that would come to mind. Again and again, I would try to replay the sunshine and laughter from what little memories life had taught me to this point. He would console me without words, but just the loving grace of God that would flow about us, like the words from the Bible floating in and around us, kissing our lips and blessing our spirits. There would come an awareness of beauty, one that I still cherish to this day, one that would inspire.
The silence became my teacher.
Many a long, lonely isolated day was spend in my early youth on the farms in and around New Harmony. The pastures, cows, hogs, and chickens became my companions since there were no other children around. Extended periods of solitary exploration taught my mind to create a world that would entertain me. We would speak to the animals and in a sense, they would understand. From that came an instinctual connection from which farming would become my second nature. My youthful heart ached for other children. On days there was an announcement of someone coming to visit, I would sit by the window facing the gravel road for hours at a time, waiting,…watching,…looking for the dust cloud to boil as a car or truck might approach. My heart would race as a vehicle would appear, and I would then dart for the back porch, running as fast as my little legs would carry me to the edge of the front yard, lined by the might oaks. There as the old farm truck would rumble past, a hand would shoot up from within the dark cab, waving hello. There my slim, tiny figure would stand like a statue, numb to the emptiness that filled my life. Sadly, I would only watch as the dust cloud would envelop my minuscule frame, turning my body one color; ashen. Grandma would call me back inside, realizing I had once more left the house. She was my caretaker, my keeper. Having survived Tuberculosis, she understood my condition required time to heal. So, back inside, back into the safety of the house; at least until I could find a way to slip past her watchful eye and back out into the barnyard.
Silence would return, and my soul would ache.
In all of that time of waiting and listening, a vast sea of words continued to grow within. Like a silo of summer grain filled to the brim, I desperately wanted to speak, yet it was not my time.
Grandma Mary had an old manual typewriter sitting in her spare bedroom. Occasionally, I would hear her pecking away on it. Her experience working as a secretary at IBM made her an expert so that the sound was intoxicating to my musical ear. One day, after my begging her to put paper in it so I could learn to type real words too, she finally obliged me. After a very short lesson on where to place my hands, I began. Happily, my fingers started to type the syncopated rhythm I had heard her perform. Certain of my masterpiece, I then pleaded with her to read what I had written. Being the loving lady she was, she happily attempted to translate what a three-year old’s random, incomprehensible attempt to type might say. If there had been such a thing as video in that day, it surely would have made it viral as we rolled on the floor at the words that came from her mouth; precious memories.
There on that farm, beyond the reaches of anything human, other than my maternal grandparents, my world was formed. The companion from my hospital bed would walk with me and together, we would explore the world. The fresh air and countless hours of playing outside allowed my weak lungs to strengthen. Bit by bit, my color returned until one day, my grandmother would remark at how much better I looked. The comment returns to me even now, as if she was amazed at the turn around from the sickly, near-death child, to the vibrant, healthy, young lad that I was slowly becoming. There must have been enough doubt in her mind that she was amazed by what she saw. God was surely with us.
It wasn’t much longer after that, when I felt alive and full of spirit, that my friend, the guardian angel, left. Now I don’t mean he fully left, but rather, the feeling of his presence weakened to the point, that I knew he had gone. He would be there, time and again, when there would be a breach in my soul or some other near tragedy would affect my life. No longer would we walk together on the sunny pastures, but it was okay. I knew I wasn’t alone.
The silence had taught me well.
Someday, it would be my time to speak. Yes, someday there would be a time and place.
“A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; 7 A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; 8 A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace”- Ecclesiastes 3:6-8
Thanks be to God.