Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Violent Quiet

When I was 10 years younger, I jumped out of an airplane for the first time. The experience, to say the least, was surreal. It wasn't a skydive, mind you, but a practice jump for the US Army Airborne. I wasn't spending money for the luxury of experiencing an adrenaline rush to tell my friends about, I was being paid to learn how to fall from the sky, gun in hand, and kill people that someone I'd never seen told me to kill. But as I was falling that day, not a thought crossed my mind. Just a pure and violent quiet.

I remember seeing the parachute finishing its blossom, angel wings of silk opening to make sure I lived when I hit the ground. A weapon of cloth ensuring that when I landed, I could get up and shoot my enemies. I remember watching the C-141 flying away from me, dropping fellow would-be paratroopers with the same, deceptive care. But I don't remember the experiencing the pain that I do remember feeling the next day, soreness from a military harness and knees buckling at 20 feet per second. And I don't remember a sound. It was just a pure and violent quiet.

At 18, I knew that would be an experience I would never forget, but I never realized that it would be an experience that would eventually alter my view of the world. I can't remember exactly when, my life is full of anachronistic memories, but the phrase "violent quiet" worked its way into my mind, and attributed itself to almost everything I had experienced.

As a soldier I was often exposed to pictures of the dead. Sometimes the dead lay there peacefully, almost smiling. Other times they lay in pieces. I'll never forget the image of an Iraqi man whose body was in the front seat of his car, his head in the back. In either case, the stillness of the moment betrayed the violence with which the dead met the end of their lives. Even when a man or woman clearly died in their sleep, I knew that at the smallest level, their heart, their mind, their billions upon billions of cells, fought a war that they could not hope to win. A violence, external or internal, followed by quiet.

The tragedy of September 11th hit me in much the same way. I remember watching hours and hours of the footage of the aircraft striking the twin towers, as I'm sure everybody does. But I do not remember the sounds that accompanied the images. For me, America's greatest tragedy of the young 21st Century was, both inexplicably and completely expectedly, a violent quiet.

A couple of years later, I was involved in a car crash that spun my truck around backwards, flipped me over, and slid me into someone's yard. Again, I can't remember a sound. Well, that's not true, I remember my radio playing after I had stopped moving. But during the violence, I didn't hear a thing.

Certain people like to say that we, as a race, are becoming desensitized to the violence around us. They blame it on television, movies, and even music and books. But I don't see it. I can remember the explosions and the dialogue in the most violent of movies. Songs that sing of crime sometimes stick with me, and my imagination paints the most violent pictures of all when I read a book. In real life, however, part of my mind shuts off. I think it has to. I think if it didn't, I would go crazy. I don't remember the screams of people that have died, but I remember the screams of those that lived. Why? I'm not sure, but I think life has a way of being loud when it knows it's going to win. Maybe that's why babies cry so much when they're born. The sound itself reassures those present that life has taken hold, or is taking hold. Death, in noise, is a far off place.

But the quiet... that wonderful sense of solace... merely hides the violence behind it.

We're not desensitized. We're evolving. Our survival lies in our ability to move forward and not live in the past, and overpowering memories of death, true death, hinders that. Think of the veterans from all of humanity's wars. Certain sounds trigger painful memories, some elicit violent reactions. Clearly, these men and women haven't found the peace within themselves. They're still fighting the sounds that shouldn't be there. The sounds that are lying to them, telling them that violence is what life is ultimately about.

Perhaps that's why we need violence to be, in the end, quiet.


Anonymous said...

very well said. i may have to start using that phrase "violent quiet". during one of my most horrific experiences...i don't remember hearing anything except for one sound, a sound that i will never forget. one that shattered my life. but the rest was definately a violent calm.


Posted by you have no idea... on January 1, 2007 - Monday - 12:01 PM

Tina said...

One comment? In all these years? This is a spectacular piece. Did you get it published? There is so much truth in here, told so eloquently. I'm seriously impressed.

She Writes said...

I haven't seen this one before.

I recalled your thought about violent video games and so on as I read this.

This phrase is a perfect one to describe the internal and external reaction I have had to violence in my own life. I suspect many would agree.

There is always something fascinating to me when you write about being in the air after a jump and your experiences as a soldier. Makes my heart catch a minute. So did these lines:

I don't remember the screams of people that have died, but I remember the screams of those that lived. Why? I'm not sure, but I think life has a way of being loud when it knows it's going to win.

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