On Nighttime


Best of 2019

We’re away until January 6, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2019. Enjoy your holiday!

Source: Thinkstock.

I find myself most aware of silence when I am thinking about the many ways it can be punctured. Under the wrong circumstances, a hospital room can become a symphony of noises, each of them courting the worst of a person’s anxieties. There might be an incessant but inconsistent beeping, or the sounds of several machines doing the work of keeping a person alive. It is a privilege to be told that someone you love is going to survive. The message comes from some exhausted doctor, eager to give the good news after the tests, or the surgery, or whatever else. I have also been on the other side: knowing that I would be watching a person I love slowly fade until they vanished altogether, and understanding there’s nothing that can be done.

There’s something uniquely challenging about the moments in between, when the good news of a person’s continued living is delivered, but they still have to stay in a hospital room for a few more days before they can go home. From far enough away, underneath a wave of monochromatic hospital blankets, it can be hard to tell if someone is still breathing. Particularly if you’ve already imagined a world without them in it. If you’ve spent enough time imagining someone as dead, it can be difficult to visualize them as simply sleeping. I don’t love hearing the beeping and the sonic hiccups of hospital machinery, but it is worse not to hear anything.