December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Silent running

By |2018-03-21T19:03:10+01:00November 9th, 2014|Area 51|

am fit for the mission to Saturn. I have been examined by experts and told that my health is not at issue. Instead, they have admired my tolerance for solitude and pronounced it too rare to measure and therefore apt for the mission. They have told me that while the spacecraft and modules and electrical antlers have many dials that need adjusting, most can be managed by the onboard computer without my needing to worry so that what matters most is my acquaintance if not my friendship with solitude and my resistance to its “sinister” side as time wears on. They have not said how they measure time, or even suggested the point at which it acquires significance, telling me instead that my intimacy with the private will shield me from incursions, intrusions, distractions. I have asked them roughly how long my mission will last and they have told me only a very long time while returning to my fitness and the likelihood — in their studied view — that I will behave unflappably and remain remote and unmoved. With an enthusiasm alien to me, they have spoken of the vacuum with which the expect me to bond, a favorite word. They have explained the gender of gravity; their many, or multiple, quests; the extent to which their dreams are imbued with a coolness and an awe they can make whole only through a fractured jargon. I am often bewildered but continue to listen.

For days on end, they tell me, there will be little or no communication, which could well become months or even years if the systems misbehave or if I fail to properly remember how to touch the communications devices. I will have nothing to entertain me except the recycling passage of space outside and the inner curiosities of the capsule, including panels and coatings of many colors. This will be enough to supplement my appetite and aptitude for solitude, two words — appetite and aptitude — they use interchangeably as if excitedly unaware of the meaning of either.

I am fit for the mission because among those they have interviewed I am the one who seems to them able to extend the isolation of a soundless minute into a lengthier one composed 10, 100, 1,000, or even a million. I do not need to borrow from the craving of others, or from their messages and communications. I do not need their ministrations to feel present or whole or to avoid going stir-crazy, which is how they imagine the mission might feel to many of their generation. I can also exist without a pet or a plant or a living thing that needs grooming and which in turn gives back something of its own nature.

This, they say, is why they turned to talking to the more aged ones and eventually settling on me, seeking to extract me from a home I hadn’t left for years, at least not in any substantive way, and insisting the time had come for me to go to Saturn, albeit quietly. I am also less expensive to them, and if I die I will not be noticed because I will not have communicated or annoyed them with my chattering progress. I will simply go and they will know it, that I’m out there. I am the aging veteran of a new thing, they say. I am the taciturn one who knows patience. I am the gentleman who will get to Saturn and give hope to a generation so incessantly involved with itself it has lost the touch for hope and therefore desires strange new news, so long as its members can exchange it, share it, consider it, insult it, mock it, express their awe and their feelings — errands of sentiment I lack the eagerness to undertake. This is why I’m “the man,” they say, and why I’m ready. I’ve learned to keep to myself. I am a rare commodity, merchandise in waiting. They will launch me and I will shut up until the planet comes close, and when it does I will press the yellow button, after which I can return to reading.

And if it works with me, they say, other elders will surely follow, giving them both salary and a vocation, so that I should know, if it suits me to know, that I am doing something for all those on the brink of the nowhere, one of many such people, and so for that reason alone I should be glad, or, to use the word they associate with men like me, that I should be pleased. And I am in a way. But more pleased still that I am fit for the mission, and that soon I will be leaving, walking from where I am to my living room, and then into the capsule with maybe a few books to spare, to then prepare to gaze at the colored panels and to watch space pass by in the quiet way I have come to know well, based on a kind of patience they claim not to understand but admire for its strangeness, as they admire me.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.