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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

On the Island of Silence

On the Island of Silence

A Swiftian Tale by Tobias S Haller BSg

Once upon a time there was an island far out in the sea on which none of the people ever spoke a single word or made a single sound. No one knows why this was — it could be that those who first colonized the island lacked the ability to speak, or perhaps had nothing to say! But the present inhabitants, though capable of speech, had long since forsaken it, and instead communicated with each other by means of facial expressions and gestures, in which, over time, they had developed considerable eloquence.

One day, a ship was blown off course and the seafarers happened upon this island. As the captain grounded his storm-tossed ship upon the beach, he saw a native of that place in the forest not far off, and called out to him. The man standing among the trees looked this way and that, as if unable to locate the source of the sound. Eventually after repeated calls from the captain and others of the crew, the man on the shore recognized where the sound was coming from. His eyes widened in horror and his eyebrows almost rose off his forehead, and then he averted his gaze with a frown of disgust, and gestured with both hands as if to push the ship back out to sea. He then turned and disappeared into the forest.

The crew were astounded at this reception, but debarked and went in search of fresh water. Before long they stumbled into the village that served as the metropolis of the tiny island. But everyone to whom they tried to speak greeted them with the same look of horrified astonishment and gesture of disgusted dismissal. It soon became apparent to the seafarers that they were the topic of much and lively discussion — though they could understand none of it, as it was all conducted in the silent language of the island. Had they understood they might have saved their lives. For this is what the islanders were saying about them.

How have we offended our gods that they should visit such a tribulation upon us? These people, if we can call them people, have not the least sense of discretion or decorum about them, and however much we tell them to stop their indecent behavior they keep it up — openly and shamelessly using the organ the gods have given us only for the purpose of nourishment — whereon our very lives depend — using this sacred organ of life for, well, one supposes it can only be called a kind of communication, as they appear to be able through this perversion of nature to carry on a limited form of conversation among themselves, and even seem to be trying — the gods forbid it! — to draw us into this obscenity.

Some few of you say that they should be gagged to stop this outrage, or that their tongues should be cut out, since they have so misused them. But the consensus is instead that such halfway measures will not serve. Therefore, let us do away with these monsters before their corruption infects us, lest any of our young people be tempted so to misuse the lips and tongue the gods have given us to eat and drink and taste with, to practice this obscene parody of “language.” Bind them up quickly, and let them be slain and buried under a heap of stones, that our children and our children’s children may know in the days to come of our love for our gods, and our obedience to the sacred traditions handed down to us.

And so it was that the islanders preserved their way of life, and the unfortunate seafarers met their end.+
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