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Silence

“Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.”

20 July 1969 : Apollo 11 : Tranquility Base –
A small step for man…

A defining moment in many lives (not least messrs, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins), man had made it to the moon. Each astronaut on the mission new the risks, as did those of the backup crew (Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Bill Anders – the former two to experience their own problems aboard Apollo 13).

There were of course contingency plans in place, all situations were covered, including the possibility of the leaving two men to die on the moon. In silence.

In a 30 year old document, it has been revealed that NASA planned to cut communication to the moon-bound astronauts should they not be able to leave the surface of the moon. A speech was ready for Nixon to announce their heroic death, a tragic loss in the battle for space. As soon as it was confirmed the astronauts would not be able to get back to the re-entry pod, they would be cut off. The astronauts were not informed. They would be left with nothing but silence. Silence, complete blackness and a view of home.




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Courage

Human courage in extreme situations continually astounds. I recently heard about a Vietnam documentary which looked at the story of several American soldiers who were captured by the VietCong. They were locked in separate cells, and no communication was allowed. At one point in the documentary one of the soldiers, sitting calmly in a chair, vividly describes how one day he gave up, and tried to kill himself. With nothing in the room to use, no clothes on his body, he stood and smashed his forehead against the wall until he passed out. He didn’t die.

Many people say suicide is the cowards way out, but in this circumstance it was, without doubt, an act of incredible bravery. An act of a man pushed to the very limit. During the documentary, the man is asked if he was aware of what he was doing, after a slight pause he replies.

Of course I was….

In day to day life we will never get close to that kind extreme. Our bodies and minds are cushioned, protected.
How would you react in that kind of situation? There is no answer of course, you can’t simulate that kind of experience in your mind, and you certainly wouldn’t want to simulate it physically.

Another sequence in the documentary: Once again one of the captured soldiers sits passively, almost morose, in a chair and describes in graphic detail, one of his torture sessions. I will spare you the details. At one point, he says,

I was in so much pain that it no longer registered. I then realised that they couldn’t hurt me any more. I lifted my head, and looked my tormentor in the eyes, holding his gaze. He looked back, burst into tears and ran screaming from the room. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes.

None of the soldiers gave up any information. None were decorated by their country. None returned heroes. They were forgotten.

There is much more to say about the incredible strength of human will, the courage we can muster in extreme situations, but I’m not able to get past one thing – a sense of awe, a sense of relief. Relief that it wasn’t me.




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Four

“The hurt of lost,
the longing of one,
the distance from those,
the untouchable.”

Four lines.

Many meanings.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I wrote those four lines a long time ago, I think I was about 17 or 18, vaguely around one of the times I split up with Louise (which as certain people know, happened now and again). Since then it keeps appearing in my head, for no reason that I can fathom, and each time it seems to take on a different meaning.

“The hurt of lost” – doesn’t apply anymore, but when did it? Is the loss perceived or a reality?

“the longing of one” – I long for many things, or is dream a better term? Many things I can’t achieve, many things I have.

“the distance from those” – distance, when used properly, keeps perspective, but from who?

“the untouchable” – inferiority complex? Lack of self-confidence, feelings of exclusion?

No matter how hard I try, I can’t pin this down, but maybe that’s why it still intrigues me after so long. Do I really need an explanation? Like many things, it may be better not to know, but surely, as my brain keeps recalling it, it must have some significance.

Maybe I think too much, it has been mentioned. I’m convinced it has a relevance, it must shelter something, or is it just too vague to really mean anything? Maybe that’s the appeal.

If you have any ideas, please let me know.




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