“If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.” -Federico Fellini
One word that others have always, always used to describe me is ‘quiet’, as if there was something wrong with me. And it’s true that I have tended to keep to myself, interjecting when necessary and being soft spoken at that. But in a world full of constant noise and jibber-jabber, I actually feel I am doing the people around me a favor. Besides, when all you do is talk, talk, talk you miss out on an amazing opportunity: you can easily blunder your chance at understanding someone.
When two people trying to engage fail to hear one another, it can be incredibly detrimental to that relationship and over time, not feeling understood can do severe damage to a person. It’s easy to give up on trying to make yourself heard when no one seems to want to listen.
So while a little less talking and a lot more listening could do us all some favors, holding back and staying silent also have negative outcomes. It’s not only frustrating for those who want to know and understand someone, but it’s also quite discouraging for the individual who has trouble finding their voice because it’s been stifled so many times. This is certainly true in my experience.
As is so often the case, I learned to silence myself by example. My mother is a lead expert in self-repression. Forty-five years of ignoring the vows broken, lies told. Forty-five years of submitting to sex against her will and desire. Forty-five years of swallowing her pride and giving in to the opinions of a man who wouldn’t allow her to be right if it meant he was wrong. Forty-five years of being made to feel stupid. Forty-five years without ever hearing the words, “I love you”, “Thank you” or “I’m sorry”. Forty-five years of feeling unloved, unappreciated, and unworthy of something better–someone better. Forty-five birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Days, Christmases without so much as a card to let her know she was thought of. Forty-five years of caring for a man who has refused to take care of himself much less tend to her needs. Forty-five years of watching him devote his time to other interests instead of his family. Forty-five years of silencing the voices within, of praying to die.
A few years back my mother revealed this hidden, broken piece of herself. I sat with her, mourning over the life she’s felt forced to live as she told me she’s so unhappy she wants to die and prays to God to take her away. And I began to resent my father even more for being the reason she felt this way.
Thirty-two years that I have observed and internalized the need to keep quiet. Afterall, what’s the point in saying something if you’re not going to be heard? If all you’ll face is persecution? Thirty-two years of feeling like I’m not worthy of being loved or of having a voice. Thirty-two years of communicating the best way I know how and still not being understood. But I’ve not lost faith in me yet even if everyone I’ve given my heart to has. The key is to unlearn, to redefine.
Even still, how am I supposed to learn to trust again? So many promises have been made and just as many have been broken. It’s easy to make a promise that requires little to no effort on our part. But what about promises that span our entire lifetime? Those are promises that require a certain degree of sacrifice and commitment, courage, determination, and leaps of faith. I’m doing the work. But really, what’s the point? Because so few people out there are willing to go that extra mile.
Me, I want to get to the bottom of things. I want to figure out why things work the way they do. Why do we behave the way we do? Why do we choose the people we choose? And how can things be done differently? There’s so much to uncover, so much to understand about the undercurrents of our lives and the way they help shape us, motivate us, determine the choices we make. I suppose, then, being with someone who is less interested in those things is not an option.
One promise I’m making myself is this: I may be quiet, but I will not stay silent. And I will not be ignored. I have tried the best way I know how to make myself heard. But my attempts have fallen on deaf ears. No matter. I am here to live my life, not pray that it be over. I am guilty of having those kinds of thoughts; I have felt the plague of desperation overcome my ability to reason as I planned to make my great escape. But that was a voice worth sequestering.
If the only love I ever know is the love of my kids, then that alone is all the love I ever need to feel. And if my love has been enough of a reason for my mom to live, then I’m damn glad I found my way into this world. And I am certainly glad I’m finally finding my voice, even if she has yet to do the same.