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The Silence of the Night

The sound of life here in America is almost deafening at times.

Last night I found myself suddenly wide awake. The air had that middle of the night feeling, as if the world was holding its breath, waiting for some silent signal before it let its shoulders down with a windy sigh. I had spent many similar hours watching the night during my last two years in Yemen, when the heat would make it impossible for me to sleep. Farther back, when we lived in our little Northern village, I would lie awake, marking time by the footsteps of the armed guards through the midnight streets.

As I tucked the covers around the baby sleeping near my side, I thought how the night felt different in every place I have lived. The nights of my Wisconsin childhood were filled with the quiet whisper of the wind drawing its fingers through tree leaves, interrupted at times by a car driving too fast on the highway below the house. In Boulder winter nights were filled with the magic of snow, a silence made up of the falling of thousands of tiny flakes, a cold that made warm quilts and the warm body of a sleeping baby blessed companions. In Sana’a the cold lived in the very stones of our tower house, and the night felt ancient, always…like with the falling of darkness the streets teemed with thousand year old life. In the little mud house that embraced us, womb-like, in our little mountain village, the silence truly reigned. No refrigerator hum or headlight splash of passing cars. No houselights to beckon a traveler home. No streetlights to mar the perfect darkness, competing with the stars draped across midnight skies. It was in the village that I learned the truth of silence, and came to embrace the night as the sister of day.

Last night, as I checked on the children snuggled deep into their sleeping bags, I listened to the sounds of the night. The reassuring sound of the heater, keeping the house comfortable for my sleeping family. The distant sound of a siren, the lonely harbinger of some great change to some stranger’s life. The sudden, jarring crash as ice fell into the tray as the ice maker did its job in the kitchen. All of these sounds of modern American life, so foreign to me, so alien…

I slid back into the warmth of my blankets just as the heater fell silent. There was a pause, and then I heard it. The sigh of the wind in the trees…the same wind that blew gently into my window on gentle Damaaji nights. The breath of the wind that forms the background fabric of the night, across which stars are strewn with beautiful abandon.

And again I felt at home, in the silence of the night.


We watch the Night

April, 2011


We watch the night


flung far from home


into the embrace of another time

a world apart

waves crash

constant ebb and flow echoes

memories sigh


we watch the night


we bear witness

to its endless rage

no calm darkness

woven from star dropped cloth

instead tense night

draws tight its veil

muffles the cries of the innocents


we watch the night


you so new, so bright

help me see distant

starshine soon to be sun

see hope

I breathe you in

and smell the scent

of hope

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