The sentence comes deep into a personal essay by Ioana Burtea. She’s a contributing writer at DoR (Decat o Revista), a creative and enterprising magazine in Bucharest. She usually writes about the justice system or politics, which is nonstop, hard-edged territory in Romania, and seldom lends itself to poetic reflection. But she has long been haunted by the divide between her childhood in a traditional Romanian city and her professional life in Bucharest. Finally, the need to settle her mother’s estate drew her home — to a place and memories she had long since avoided.
Burtea’s walk back through her own life is also a walk through some of the divides that run through Romania — and, indeed, much of the world. Divides of religion, class, education, aspiration. And divides of perspective and understanding. On the last day in her old city, Burtea steps into a Catholic church, where a Mass has just started. Ther priest reminds the few congregants to remember that the dead are among them. Then comes that sentence from Burtea, like prayer and response: “He was followed by 30 seconds of silence, during which every sigh toured the walls of the church.”
We all know sound travels, but I had never thought of a sigh being part of that journey. Now, the next time I return to my own hometown and the Catholic church of my childhood, I’ll visit for some silent time, and listen to the souls who have gone before.