We knew that the best words were the ones that came out of silence
September 22, 2006
We were talking about the things we always talk about, and the whole of it had the effect of making us think about who we were, and about what it was going to mean to keep living in the world we had around us, and we knew it was a world that had a lot of love in it, but things got to a point sometimes when all we could do was sit and be brown together, Iranians and Mexicans, and be glad about that. It was a nice color, it was a lot nicer than anything that deserved bombs or pesticides, we knew that much for sure. We were all used to running around trying to make something out of life that elevated brownness, but it was a good feeling to see how full it was to sit and be who we were together, and it didn't need elevation because there was only one truth.
We didn't have to think of brown in contrast to white. It would be a nice color even if an Iranian and a Mexican were walking across a desert and came across each other. That was some of how we felt. We knew there were real deserts that had a sun that was probably too hot for us, but we could sit there in the restaurant and feel pretty certain that we were as sad as we ought to be and as hopeful as we ought to be, and we didn't worry about what we were going to do, because we felt like if we could stay sad and hopeful the way we ought to, then what we would do would take care of itself.
The trick was knowing how far we could go when we were all around each other like that. There was a way a person could let themselves go when they were around a group of people who did not hide from sadness, who could face it without needing to know what came next. At the same time, we knew we were each alone in it too. It was why it was nice just sitting there together, because anything that was being opened there among us was being closed at the same time. It wasn't being closed in a way that wouldn't be opened up again tomorrow, but tomorrow when it did, we'd know a little better that it carried its closedness in it. For now it was being closed by the way we could look around at each other and think, I don't know what it is about this brown skin, but I do know that it's not whatever it is that they see. And it was a feeling like there was already laughter. There was already laughter before any of us said a word, even before any of us came into the place and sat down. The whole thing was already funny. The place we were sitting in was already a little sacred, even before we came in, by being open to people with their sufferings coming in and sitting down.
We knew that we could do a lot with words too, which was why we wanted to be careful with them. We knew that the best words were the ones that came out of silence. It didn't have to be the silence of the moment necessarily, it could be each of our own silences that we'd walked around with, around college campuses and cities and quiet neighborhoods. We had a lot of respect for each other's silences. We knew that they came from some place real. And we knew that there would always be more in them than we could say, but the one thing that was certain and final was recognizing the silence in each other, and seeing it reflected in a brown skin, brown from the sun, which was a whole story of silence itself.
It was a story of how much could be done with just a man and a world itself. It did not have to be a man against a man. It went back to fields and farms we didn't know, we didn't know them but they weren't gone from us, they weren't gone from us here in the middle of the city. It was a city that had gotten a brownness to it by now, and we knew that we had a little bit of a home in that. Even a little bit of a home was a lot when it included people who could be sad with more hopefulness than was usually associated even with being glad.
Jose was the last to arrive. He came in and sat down, and there was just as much silence in the way we greeted him as there was in silence. There was just as much silence that he was walking into the room with. It wasn't a case of us telling him what we had been talking about, because he already knew how we felt about it.
"I had to drop my grandmother off at the bus station. She's going to Reno," he said. "I've dropped her off there a few times before, and each time I've seen the old people in her group waiting for the bus, it's looked like they're all saying 'There's just something lucky about me.' And then tonight I felt like I finally understood it. I felt like if I was able to reach old age, I would feel like there was something lucky about me too. I thought that if I reached my grandmother's age, I would take up gambling too."
It was the words we had been waiting for, and we silently thanked him for saying them, and we silently thanked ourselves for being the place where he would say them. And we began the thing that we had come for in the first place, which was a kind of consoling and a kind of affirming, a consoling and affirming towards him and towards ourselves, and a kind of laughing and a kind of crying, and a kind of loving of brown skin, a kind of loving that a brown-skinned man would say such a thing, that he would walk right in and sit down and say it with questions in his eyes and statements in his heart, knowing that the brown-skinned people he was sitting with had the same questions and statements inside them, and we were happy that part of what it meant to be us was somebody walking right in and beginning with poetry like that, beginning with poetry because he already knew it was a poem, he already knew it back when he was driving his grandmother to the bus station. And we knew that the other part of it was that we knew what he meant about old age, but we felt like something would stay living, whether we reached an age where we felt lucky enough to go to Reno or not, our effort to stay who we were would stay living, and it would stay living with as much shine as our brown skin had in the sun.