WRITER: ANTHONY CASTO
I am lying on an uncomfortable hospital bed between two sparsely woven and clumsily arranged blankets when I first hear the sound of silence. It is here in this chilly room amongst a few empty chairs that I learn to truly listen, to focus, and clearly see. It is here that the visions of the frightening yet revealing events which took place three days ago and that will leave me crippled for the next 10 days begin to impact the depths of my soul.
It came with little warning on a Thursday night. I found myself doubled over in pain. Even though I had known the pain of kidney stones, this pain was stronger than any I had felt before. My wife, Shayne, who was eight months pregnant, rushed me to the hospital with our little 2-year-old daughter, Payton, in tow. After a few X-rays and an MRI, it was determined my small intestine had ruptured. I vividly remember hearing Staying Alive by The Bee Gee’s playing as I was prepped for surgery. I must admit, it was certainly amusing; however, it was eerily fitting for the moment.
During the emergency surgery, the surgeon removed nine inches of my small intestine. He saved my life. I had less than an hour to live before the toxins would have irreversibly poisoned my body.
The next day found me in a foggy haze as a nurse frantically rushed me down the hall in a wheelchair. I felt her breath on my ear as she whispered, “We’re almost there.” Arriving at the other end of the hospital, she gingerly pushed my frail, tired body through the doorway of the delivery room where Shayne was, at that moment, giving birth to our first-born son, Dallas.
With droopy eyes, an IV in my arm, a tube in my nose, and wearing only a hospital gown, I sat hunched over in amazement, watching him gently wiggle in the nurse’s wet gloves. I heard his voice, soft but loud, as he cried for the first time. His voice was so beautiful to me.
As I cradled Dallas in my arms for the first time, I watched him softly clasp his hands and weave his little fingers together so delicately. I could barely make out his face through my misty eyes. He was swaddled tightly in a blanket, and I watched him smile as he gently shifted his shoulders, stretching his legs out as he nestled down further into my cuddle. My son … my only son.
It was there in the silence where I learned to listen. It was there where life was suddenly loudest.
Watching him made my heart swell. It was at that moment the realization hit me. My son was in the arms of his daddy… whom he may have never known. He would never have looked into his daddy’s eyes. He would never have heard his daddy say how much he loved him. He would never have known what it was like to hug his daddy or make his daddy smile or hear him laugh. No wrestling around on the floor or special trips for ice cream or sitting on daddy’s lap to watch cartoons while eating cereal.
For me, I would not have witnessed my son become a young man, watched him play football games or listened to him talk about how much he loves the girl he wants to marry someday. It was only in that moment of silence that I could truly see my life, my wife, and my children. They echo in the sound of silence.
The next day, I woke to the gentle, warm hands of a nurse as she tried to help me focus. I heard her speaking but couldn’t make out her face. I was back in my uncomfortable bed yet couldn’t remember how I got there. For a moment I thought I had been dreaming about my son being born, ice cream, and the look in his eyes when he smiled at me. A doctor was there also. He said, “If it wasn’t for your young body, you wouldn’t have made it.” I was stunned. I asked him to say it again, and he did. The second time he said it, I felt a piece of myself die.
That moment changed my life.
“You have Crohn’s disease,” he said and suggested I see a specialist. I didn’t have too much time to think about it, nor did he make time to try and comfort me. It was disheartening to know I had a disease. I went blank. I went cold.
The nurse warned of a little pain as she slowly removed the heavily taped bandage from my abdomen. It protected my fresh and swollen scar, and each pull made me cringe. I could feel practically every hair being pulled from my belly. It was the first time I saw the exposed and stapled cut that was covered in greasy ointment, and the first sight of it hurt much more than the pulling of my hair. It was a new memory planted in my brain, which still remains within the sound of silence.
As time progressed, my body felt a little better each day. I remember laboring every night to pull myself out of bed to go to the restroom. Each time, I would sit for about 20 minutes waiting and thinking about the painful task of getting back in bed. I would stare at the crooked, dirty, awkward, heavy, metal IV stand that I had to drag behind me everywhere I went. My heavy head would hang down and stare at its old wheels. The wheels reminded me of my crippled body: rusty, unshaven, fumbling about like a sick old man. In the silence of the room, I would stare into space and think of my little girl who was waiting for her daddy to come home. Her bubbly smile and sweet voice echoed in my mind. She became my strength. I could hear her say, “I lub jew, daddy”, over and over in my head, which still remains within the sound of silence.
The nights became shorter. I knew that after all I had been through — the pricks in my arms from needles, the hair ripping from my belly, the painful walks down the hallway, the nights I cried myself to sleep praying for another day while also thanking God for sparing my life — it would all soon be over.
In the dark silence of a rainy night, I reached over my bed rail to grab Payton’s little pink guitar. I have always found playing the guitar to be soothing and healing. I had asked Shayne to bring a guitar for me to play to pass the time, and she had brought Payton’s.
Something magical began to happen. The more I played her guitar, the more I felt her presence and the more I felt her in my arms instead of the guitar. I slowly strummed myself to tears and softly hummed while thinking about my beautiful little girl. I felt the cold dampness of my tear-soaked pillow against my cheek as I looked over to watch the rain outside my window. The faint patter of the raindrops struggled to keep time with my woeful ballad. My heart swelled for her between each brush of the strings. I felt myself hearing without listening… singing without speaking... writing songs my voice would never share. I never dared disturb the sound of silence.
Today, three years later, I am sitting in my chair feeling the cool breeze of a ceiling fan while my fingers tap on a warm keyboard. I sit comfortably in the silent place of my mind again, in the company of my guitars as my son and daughter sleep soundly in their rooms next to mine. I still hear the echoes of that silent room. I still see the rain through my window, the white layered blankets, and the empty chairs. I still hear the news from the doctor, yet now feel blessed that I am doing fine.
Time and time again I return to the stillness, the quiet place. In the quiet of a car ride home from work during a peaceful evening , I truly see the blessings in my life. As I clumsily strum my guitar with my children on the floor, I truly see them dancing. At bedtime, right after my face touches the cool side of my pillow before falling asleep, I truly relive the smiles of my children as I tucked them into their beds.
Sometimes in the stillness, the silence takes me back to the pain. It is there the scars of my heart reopen… though now I am proud of the fact I made it and I get to see my family every day. I am reminded of Psalms 46:10 that says, “Be still and know that I am God…”, and I did. It is there where my life changed. It is there where I am most thankful for life, my wife, my children, and those who helped me make it through. It is there where I hear the soft plucking of an acoustic guitar playing an enchanting yet charming melody, and the singer hypnotically croons, “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again, because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping, and the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains, within the sound of silence.”
©Copyright by writer, Anthony Casto. All Rights Reserved.