The Deep Silences
“Where a story-teller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of the silence. … Who then tells a finer story than any of us? Silence does. And where does one read a deeper tale than upon the most perfectly printed page of the most precious book? Upon the blank page.” – Isak Dinesen, “The Blank Page”
As I contemplated the emptiness of the silence in my life, I was reminded of a story that has haunted me ever since I first read it some years ago in college. Isak Dinesen’s short story “The Blank Page,” although well-crafted and seeped in rich language appears simple enough as a story, but it is the silence of the blank page it offers that remains with the reader. I hate to summarize such a poignant (and truly very short) tale, so I highly encourage you to read it in full here. But it is a tale of an old story-teller who tells of an old order of Carmelite nuns in Portugal who spun the finest linen in all the land. So fine that it was used for the bridal sheets of the daughters of the noble families of the land. The bridal sheet that would only be used once and then the morning after hung out on the balcony to proclaim to the world that the bride had indeed been a virgin. The nuns would then receive back the central part of the sheet, a dark stain upon snow white linen, and hang it in a gilded frame in the convent’s main hall. Visitors would come to gaze upon these “marks of honor” and find their own meanings in the markings. But of course, there is one sheet that differs from the others, one that within its golden frame remains snow-white from corner to corner – a blank page. And as Dinesen writes, “It is in front of this piece of pure, white linen that the old princesses of Portugal—worldly wise, dutiful, long-suffering queens, wives and mothers—and their noble old playmates, bridesmaids and maids-of-honor have most often stood still. It is in front of the blank page that old and young nuns, with the Mother Abbess herself, sink into deepest thought.”
There is more meaning in the untold stories, the what-ifs, the dreams, and the unexpected turns of life than in the seemingly perfectly constructed tales. The depths of questions, of pain, and of pleasure in the silences are their own stories. The silence is sometimes deep.
I’m ready to plumb those depths.