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    A background slice from Odilon Redon's painting, Silence.

    Briefly Disturbing the Wisdom of Silence


    By Yahia Lababidi

    October 29, 2015
    • Sondra Brickell

      Reminds me of Gibran, who has been a balm to my soul.

    “Of what avail is their brevity, when there is a whole book full of them?” Martial wryly asked of his short poems. The same question could be put to Yahia Lababidi, an Egyptian-American poet and essayist who has earned acclaim for his book of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere. Although Lababidi claims Nietzsche and Oscar Wilde as inspirations, his own work is characterized not by the caustic humor of these two dissenters, but by a more contemplative tone in line with Rumi, whom he often quotes. Lababidi is a Muslim voice for peace, celebrating the wisdom in ancient traditions and pointing out the ridiculous in the rush and cynicism of contemporary life.

    Drawn to the mystic tradition, Lababidi often refers to the virtues and fruits of silence, and writes that his aphorisms “respect the wisdom of silence by disturbing it, briefly.” To answer Martial’s question, perhaps an age as thoughtless and noisy as our own requires a whole book full of them.

    We can lend ideas our breath, but Ideals require our entire lives.

    The path to Peace is littered with dead selves.

    Does the contemporary prevalence of "life coaches" mean Life can no longer be relied upon to do her job?

    All languages are rough translations of our native tongue: the Spirit.

    Don't squander your boredom; dig deeper, treasures are buried there.

    Poetic ideal: a language scrubbed clean by silences.

    Certain silences are hard to take back.

    You can't bury pain and not expect it to grow roots.

    Chasing silence is like embarking on a whale hunt. If one actually catches up with this creature of the depths, there’s the danger of being swallowed whole.

    The ultimate act of trust – in self and life – must be to have children.

    Pity atheists their pitilessness. They are like persons hurt in love, who vow: never again.

    Miracles are everyday occurrences, recognizing them is not.

    Know your Muse, and its diet.

    The play of ideas is eternal. We merely shuffle onstage and off to introduce them to one another.

    Our most profound prayers hardly reach our lips; they are made with our entire being.

    Exiles always feel a little posthumous.

    At the heart of every vice sits selfishness, yawning.

    Those who stop short and worship the natural world forget nature is following orders, as well.

    What we refer to as "the real world" is often our failure of imagination.

    We’re here to pass around the ball of light, while keeping our fingerprints off it.

    No matter how we dream or scheme, being born is always a surprise.

    The aphorisms selected here are drawn from “Spirit Aphorisms,” a collection written since the publication of Signposts to Elsewhere. Lababidi’s work is also included in the anthology, Short Flights.

    Odilon Redon's impressionistic painting, Silence, depicts the head of a man and his raised hand, surrounded by what appears to be an ocean wave and shells. Odilon Redon, Silence (detail)