The Stranger Silence Between

The Stranger Silence Between

Why do we say silence ‘falls’,
like it’s some kind of cloud lurking in the rafters just waiting to descend uninvited,
when it is The Host that welcomes us in to an empty space in the first place,
there before we arrive and there after we leave?

A man walks alone, from pool of light to pool of light along the walkway that hugs the theatre on Vashon Island, WA. He is tall and thin, older and masked up, and he spots me lingering in the shadows of the recycling bins trying to quell post-gig anxiety that can pop up now and then. Jenkinson is signing books, and I’ve changed into my ratty road uniform of jeans, scarf, and coat, hoping the night air helps to ground me. Having deduced I was one of the two men on stage, he quietly thanks me for the evening and I acknowledge him with a small smile and a head nod. He stops, and with a demeanour that asks If you don’t mind…? he turns to step into the shadow with me. With a gesture of my own that says Not at all, I take a step forward and meet him in the penumbra. (Penumbra: the area between shadow and light…I had to look that up. Ed)

Quiet and well spoken, he tells me he hesitates to characterize the evening at the risk of over simplifying. I watch him finger his way along the beads of possible words, landing at profound, but he’s not quite satisfied with it.
Then he looks puzzled, a bit pained, almost apologetic.
“I didn’t know what to do between pieces. No one did, it seems,” he says.

I smile. He’s referring to the silence that can fall over a room when we finish a poem or song. It differs from night to night, depending on the Crowd Mind, but it is almost always there in some fashion. “That’s ok. I had to learn over the years what those intervals could mean and occasionally I need to relearn it.”
He lowers his mask beneath his nose.
“It didn’t seem right to clap—and it was uncomfortable not to—but it was something like reverence there after a poem or song, and applauding would have broken it. It was confusing.”
“Yeah. It can be that way” I say. “The quiet can detonate certainty. Applause can be easy, seductive, maybe even addictive…on both sides of the microphone. Silence takes work.”

He pulls his mask all the way down now. “And it would feel too much like theatre. This was definitely not theatre.”
That distinction, unprompted, surprises me.
“Definitely not theatre,” I agree. “Matter of fact, when we talk about this—and we talk about it a lot—that is at the very top of the ‘What We Know This Is NOT’ list.” (Performance, show, entertainment, distraction, concert, and genre specific would be next…the list of what we know it’s not is longer than the list of what we know it is. Ed)
“Plus,” I add, “audiences are deeply trained organisms, and the training is useless on a Night like this.”

The gentleman makes a couple charitable comparisons to Cohen and hunts for a few more summary adjectives before the attempt dissolves into the mysteries and we shake hands, parting ways, wishing each other safe travels on the dark roads of this little island in the Pacific. It’s a completely moonless night.

I know that in a few minutes, after the book signing is done, SJ and I will convene in the greenroom, and we’ll dissect the silence that was with us on stage, and I’ll be able to tell him about the conversation I had in the shadows, one more marker on the map of a night of grief and mystery, should we feel a bit lost in the quiet.