The Cone of Silence

Winter 2011 #8

On Tuesday we will celebrate Bugger’s first birthday!  (less a cause for celebration is the expiry of my power chair’s warranty, somewhat sobering given that we have already had two new motors and two new batteries). 

My primary fascination a year ago was to discover just how far afield Bugger and I could venture; with and without the aid of public transport.  To my delight I discovered we could go a long, long way.  Unaided we could manage some 15km on the footpaths, roads and riverside cycle tracks of our city.  With a little push from a train we once ventured 1107 km from home!

A new fascination has taken root in recent times.  Rather than simple mileage; my goal has become ‘conversational complexity’.  The object of this game is to accomplish increasingly intricate public transactions, and the single rule of the game is that no word can be spoken by me.  When I initially found the need to engage shop assistants, bus drivers and the like in word-free dialogue I was embarrassed and daunted.  I am still a little embarrassed today, but my overriding experience is delight.  I find people are universally happy to adapt to the rules of my world; and with their help I have graduated from buying bus tickets to purchasing clothes and appliances (that was particularly good: I purchased a television and even carried it home on the bus!), registering vehicles, sourcing support, establishing bank loans, engaging solicitors, right up to the crowning achievement of buying a home! 

The Cone of Silence is addictive.  First I flash my laminated “Sorry, no voice” card, and then I flourish my NetBook computer, or perhaps my iPhone, and as I type an aura of concentration descends.  The mastery of technique required by both parties can be intense, and a hush absorbs us until all worldly distractions retreat from the transcendental encounter taking place across the counter top.  I enjoy these moments immensely. Pressing through nerves and anxiety about my typing skills, a tangible, intimate connection emerges.  It’s almost sacred.  Francis of Assisi described every meeting between one human and another as a sacrament; an encounter between the sons and daughters of God.  The public and I become co-conspirators, engaged in a clandestine operation to defeat the demons of disability! The run-of-the-mill dealings in my former able-bodied life were humdrum and impersonal compared to this! 

Another 'Cone of Silence'

The Cone of Silence is a joyful place!

Joyful… except when I am alone in the Cone.  While ever the Cone is a place of shared dialogue it is an enthralling haven of human touch.  But when the Cone descends on me alone I taste its powerful secrets of privacy and isolation in a very different sense.  Language and culture are so closely aligned as to be almost synonymous.  Our choice of words and manner of speech define ‘us’, and their absence is debilitating.  This other, unwelcome Cone of Silence sometimes traps me in the midst of a group of people busily sharing their worlds and lives with each other.  It catches me by surprise in shopping centres and on busy streets, in parks and even in my own living room, or – perhaps worst of all – in our church.  Robbed of the tools of society I sometimes feel I am inexorably drifting away from society itself.  I remember a group of deaf people who once joined our church.  They joined us, but they stayed apart as well.  Their adept skill with sign language allowed them to inhabit a different physical space to the rest of us.  Almost a different dimension in fact.  In the noisy bustle of after-church coffee we able-bods required personal proximity to conduct our chatter.  You have to get close to be heard.  But our deaf friends lived under no such constraints: they could quite happily form a tight-knit group by signing from the four corners of the room. Nobody, neither them nor us, wanted a “them and us” world – but nobody could completely cross the divide either.  We had to embrace our difference, and to some degree remain in our differing worlds. 

I’ve yet to meet anyone who speaks my language, or shares my singular culture.  Or, to put it another way, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t speak the language I used to speak the way I don’t speak it any more!  I whisper sometimes, and manage the odd soft word; but the spontaneity, the depth of conversation – it’s all gone. This Cone of Silence, the alienating, inhibiting, frustrating, sorrowful Cone of Silence; is one I could happily forsake. 

I don’t recall that I have ever entered The Cone when I am truly alone.  In solitude there is another, altogether better Silence that I am learning to hear; as if for the first time in my life.  Here in Paradise this Silence is enhanced by the sights and smells and even the sounds of the bush.  But rich Silence is not confined to pleasant surrounds.  It is something that dwells within, and is unmistakably spiritual.  I am reminded of the Hebrew name of God which could be written in a contracted, code-like form, but never, ever spoken.  Strangely enough, Silence answers the questions I am reluctant to ask.  This Silence is not one that I would have chosen, except in a moment of introspection or prayer; but the Silence is befriending me none the less.  And that’s not all bad. 




14 thoughts on “The Cone of Silence

  1. sharon l crump

    My Friend, you have entered my world of contemplation. Once the fear of isolation recedes, a joyful solitude surrounds you, and yes nature begins to speak to you in ways it does not speak to others. To be silent in an inner sanctuary you have to pay attention, to listen to your interior world and God, bringing you new richness that many a monk have entered monasteries to find. It is fear we must overcome…. I taste it like one who is about to ascend Mt Everest. Climb to the heights my Friend. Climb!

  2. It is a privilege to share your fascinating weekly musings, which your many followers always look frorward to. I especially enjoy your humility, clarity and generosity of spirit. You really are an example to us all – live life to the fullest, be your own person and don’t sweat the little stuff.

  3. norma chalmers

    I am very proud of you and your work .It says a lot about your courage and determination by the way you have accepted your disability.Keep up the good work on both fronts…Norma.

  4. Debbie

    Again I am astounded & incredibly inspired by the way you are able to put thoughts in written form so intrinsically linking the unknown to what God is revealing through you! Thanks again Roderick!

  5. Hi Alan,
    Some weeks ago you wrote, “Thanks again Rod for sharing your humanity and spirituality as you go about your life” on a FaceBook link to a blog. I went back to find it this morning, and realised just how many weeks I’ve been thinking, ‘must write to Alan’. I found that comment you made moving, I think that bringing humanity and spirituality together is such a helpful stand-point. I think of you as are a spiritual man Alan, and its a privalege to have come back into contact with you after all these years.

  6. Neroli Foster

    The cone of silence analogy reminds me of our travels in foreign countries where we perhaps felt a similar isolation from our surroundings as a result of language. Not being able to understand anything that was being said around us and not be able to communicate in much detail was initially a barrier to our enjoyment, but soon became a challenge so enjoyable that we began to thrive on our abilities to satisfy our daily needs using the little we had. Part of the joy for us though was knowing it was a short term situation and when we tired of its difficulites, we could return to normal life. Rod, your enthusiasm is amazing.

  7. Shirley Sanson

    Rod I look forward to your blogs with fascination and amazement of what God is doing in your life. Your couraging spirit and determination in life is somewhat remarkable and i know the Lord is helping every step of the way I just want you to know i am thinking of you and your family and praying for you. You are not alone you have many many people praying for you and I walking with you in prayer. Rod i think by what you write you are truly an inspiration to all of us and i thank you for sharing your journey with us. May God Bless you always. From Shirl.

  8. hi Rod it has been too long between meetings,reading your blog i feel you have become stronger in your faith,you are so elequent in your typing and i feel inspired and enthused to keep fighting for what is right and good to share that love of God with all people

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