Dr Judith Guedalia

Sounds Of Silence: Chaim K. And His Old Friend Darkness

Dr. Judith Guedalia © 2008 and Chaim K.

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



In restless dreams I walked alone; Narrow streets of cobblestone

'Neath the halo of a street lamp, I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night,

And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share, and no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence


"Fools," said I, "You do not know; silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you; take my arms that I might reach you"

But my words, like silent raindrops, fell and echoed

In the wells of silence


And the people bowed and prayed;

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls", and whispered in the sounds of silence


Hello Darkness, my old friend

(From Simon and Garfunkel Sounds of Silence, 1966)
I sensed my sadness and trepidation from the moment he rolled into the room. This time he didn't ask to be pushed by his aide, but rather maneuvered his massive wheelchair using his chin on the joystick control. I saw his unsmiling face, his lips sealed shut and his always-twinkling eyes, glazed over.
I knew we were in for a difficult session, when Chaim K. doesn't have the energy or drive to open the session; I know something heavy is weighing on him. Today, it is one week before Taanit Esther, one week before the yahrzeit of the cataclysmic event that changed his life forever.
As I sit with Chaim I sense the deep pain the car's tires etched into his soul forever as it ran-over him, while he was on his way home from his job of baking matzot, seven years ago. Yes, his life was saved many times over, and yes, Baruch Hashem and with G-d's help, his brain was not affected. Though he can neither breathe on his own, nor move − with the exception of his face and one finger on his right hand - nor can he feel much sensation on his body, he is generally optimistic and exudes a unique life force.
But now two weeks after we have written an essay extolling G-d's virtues and munificence which he called "B'SD" - which stands for b'siyata d'shamaya, with G-d's help - I look at those days we discussed and wrote the article as the storm before the quiet.
Chaim has been here many times before. By "here" I mean a place that is noiseless except for his whimpers of silent thoughts, dry except for his inner tears, whispers of anguish, and unmoving paroxysm of pain. It is a place to which he does not invite even his dearest friends and most loved family members. It is his Ta'anit Dibur − "Fast of Silence."
In the over three years since I began meeting with Chaim, we (or I should say I) I have experienced few such sessions; he has had some such others while at home. That is to say, that though every nanosecond as a quadriplegic on a respirator is a lifetime of "what-might-have-been" vs. "what-is," to Chaim's immense strength and credit, and the love and support of his wonderful family, Chaim is a joy and inspiration to be with and learn from. Amidst this ineffable sorrow, the "every-day-outward" Chaim is always working to create an atmosphere of wholeness, which causes others to want to be with him out of joy and not chesed. His interactions with us "civilians" is, in reality, the chesed.
So today, when I see that he is sealed, closing himself from the environment, and especially to me, I try to give him space.
"Okay," I say after about 45 interminable minutes, "I feel your power, your energy and your sadness. The article we wrote with Mimi and Jenny called 'Mind, Body, and Soul in 24 Hours' was published by that name in a special issue of The Jewish Press. There, you all discussed how the 24 hours in your new, since-the-accident existence, seems like years upon years long. The praying and wishing for time to go by, and for Geulah, the Redemption, to take place, is interminable.
"I thank you for sharing this small window of these feelings with me. These "sounds of silence" are noisily playing their cacophonic sounds in my head and heart. I know how lame this may sound to you, but your strength amidst the unplumbed pain is what shouts out and resonates within me in this quiet room. Thank you for sharing what must be so impossible to express in mere words."
Our time is up. I venture: "See you next week, the day before Ta'anit Esther."
Chaim hesitates and whispers with his parched voice, "We have nothing left to talk about, why return next week."
"I don't agree. We spoke for the whole hour of this session." I look straight into his eyes, and think I see them saying "thank you."


Originally published in the Jewish Press on  May 7, 2008.

Tags: Chaim K. | Fast of Silence | Jewish Press | Sounds of Silence