By the time Larry’s shifts were done that Christmas, no one had come in to his ED clamoring to be admitted; no drunks, no drug addicts, no suicides, no maniacs, not a single compulsive gambler. Every homeless person in the city must’ve found a place to stay and every traumatized vet must’ve observed a cease fire. Every boyfriend and girlfriend was getting along fine. Larry concluded that the membrane between the spiritual world and the physical world must’ve been thin today. There was no other way to account for all this dysfunction all of a sudden becoming functional. God must’ve changed the oil in the machinery of creation. Angels must’ve had their heads under the hood; wings folded out of the way, and performed a tune up.
Larry decided that if the membrane was thin, this would be a good time to talk to God. As soon as he left work, he headed out to the country to find a place where he could see no lights but the stars above. Of course, he could have talked with God right there in his office, but that ceiling got in the way. He needed direct access and no thoughts of self destruction hanging over his head. He needed to look Him in the eye and ask Him what was up.
Larry also needed to get someplace where all the static didn’t interfere with the signal. Every time he attempted to tune into the Almighty, conservative radio hosts budged into his head, a family values politician asked for his vote, a big-haired preacher asked for money, and a hundred thousand newscasts informed him of crusades, jihads, inquisitions, and excommunications. A 50 Hz hum of judgmentalism obscured the sound of grace.
Even on those times when he was able to isolate the Word of God from all that noise, it turned out to be his father doing voiceover. Larry had the bad fortune of having a minister for a father. Too much religion ruins the possibility of a genuine religious experience.
Larry drove for most of the night, seeking a place to be alone with the stars, until he gave up trying. He finally stopped where the only lights around were the yard lights of distant farms. eHe decided the yard lights were enough like stars that he could stop; the people living in the farms like aliens in remote galaxies.
He found a big open field, parked his car by the side of the road, sat in the field and listened. It took a long time for residual sounds from the car, ticking and pinging, to stop. He had many thoughts that interfered with listening. After all his thinking stopped, he noticed his teeth chattering. Then he started thinking about his teeth, how he really should be getting back to the car, it was cold, and this was silly. Then he had another thought, a thought that, if God had anything to say, He would require Larry to be paying attention.
It wasn’t until the car stopped pinging and his thoughts stopped thinking, when Larry noticed that, sitting alone in this field, with distant yard lights glowing like remote galaxies, with a sky full of stars, there was not a single sound to be heard. There was no wind, no cars, there were no ambulance sirens bearing the sick and maimed and crazy to his ED, there was even no annoyed nurse paging him on the PA. It was all silent. He had never heard anything like it.
What better time to hear God’s voice.
What would it say? Having seen many movies, Larry expected a thunderous boom from the heavens. There was no boom. There was no cartoon hand in the sky, despite all the Monty Python skits. Having sung Christmas carols, he listened for angels, but there were no angels. Like a Magi, he searched the sky for a particular star that he would recognize amid the myriad of stars. But they all seemed alike. Having read about Elijah’s still small voice; he listened for it. He hoped he wouldn’t hear one because his patients heard still, small voices all the time and it never seemed to do them any good. Nonetheless, he didn’t hear one. All he heard was silence.
Maybe God was waiting for a question. So Larry said to the silence, “I don’t know what to do.”
There was that silence again.
Larry realized he hadn’t asked a question, he had made a statement, one that could stand on its own and not require a response.
He asked, “I don’t know what to do. What do you want me to do?”
There was that silence again.
Maybe God didn’t hear him. The stars seemed very small and distant above him. It must me a long way to heaven. He shouted, “WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
The silence was louder.
Again and again Larry shouted his question louder and louder. The only answer to his question was silence. He shouted until his throat got sore and then he shouted some more, until the dogs chained by the yard lights began to bark and the porch lights of suspicious farmers switched on.
Silence was all that God had to say that night. Larry got in his car and drove home through the thin, silent night.