I was dying of silence. Not really silence. More like clamor, inside and out. A rushing forth of sounds, word losing ground in sensibility, as time, when moving forward like all things, time and words begin to accumulate into one big rucksack full of time-bomb-ticking-un-said-ness.
I had heard a lot. Judgements until I should have died of judgements. Until I had memorized them and stuck them away in hidden crevices, a toe, a hair shaft, not by deciding to make it so, but by not verbalizing resolute rejection, instead giving judgements a safe harbor in which to drop anchor and pollute all the earlier luscious clarity of a child’s original eco-system.
The child’s voice is loud and raucous, high-pitched squealing delight. Funny this should hurt the adult ear. Children are to be seen and not heard. Not heard. Not heard. Not. Heard.
This is tragic, and the utter opposite of how it should be.
I thought it would be safer just to let things be, adults being capricious as they are. I thought words came out prettier and more worthy from some one else’s mouth or pen. I chose silence from inertia, from lack of vision, lack of energetic rallying of the forces which once needed no rallying. Over time had lost ability to coalesce into truth-telling. a truth. Yes or no. Maybe a short polemic. Or at least a semblance thereof. Which could have eventually been edited, like a potter uses tools to take away, smooth over, shape, give definition to. A skill one learns slowly and with help by making a mess in the first place.
It’s one of many kinds of murder I hate to see. The taking away of someone’s voice, and then the collusion, the Stockholm syndrome of it, or the forgetting, the filling up with sadness and resentments, using the voice aloud or in silence to blame, critique, complain, armchair explain.
It is so hard when we have been trained away from listening, to each other and our selves. The emperor”s new clothes are once again the fashion, some applauding wildly, while others of us roll our eyes. No wonder wise women writers are writing memoirs like crazy. Taking off masks. Hiking uncharted terrain. Writing words that ache. Words that call us awake.
There are wise ones speaking now. As there have always been. Memoirists, wounded healers, and a handful of politicians and journalists. I’m not sure if it does any good, but it is an extremely beautiful thing to witness. I want to say that bravery and truth-telling is its own reward, but I no longer understand the how and why of rewards.
I’ve been told it’s important to start an essay with time and place and who the narrator is. The reader needs to know. Otherwise, where are the words coming from?
At 68, and in this essay, I’m late. American. Woman. Jewish-by-birth. Buddhist-by-aspiration-and-philosophy-not-religion. I’m drawn to something that makes rational sense, as much as anything can, given the mystery of what we are doing here. Because of the mystery I also love physics.
I am offering up labels. They are and are not true. Let me try again. I hate words like JuBu. I hate pity. I hate… I was gonna say, Trump, but I should tell you something new.
It is December 2015, and I have been awake since 4AM. I’m sitting in bed with white cotton sheets from Ikea and light fluffy blankets made from nothing-natural I bought years ago at Costco. The room is dark, except for a small bedside lamp and my computer screen. I know with all my being I’m lucky to have this room in this home on a quiet San Francisco street.
I came across these words (below) by Audre Lorde on Facebook this morning — a lucky find. It inspired the first sentence I wrote here. The rest flowed from there. Later, when the sun is up, I’ll go to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) to work on some pottery I’ve been shaping. The JCC has a lot of great activities, but whenever I walk by the front of the building I’m distressed by the guy dressed in a black suit who opens everyone’s car trunk before they’re allowed to park in the underground garage.. I worry that the guy who has packed a bomb in his trunk is not going to be deterred by some guy wearing a black suit. I try to imagine the dialogue between the black suit guy and the car-bomb driver.
Black suited guy: “Hey man, you have a bomb in your trunk. I’m calling the police.”
Driver: “Cool, I’ll wait right here.”
In the ceramic studio on the top floor of the JCC natural light floods in from a wall of windows, I picture the glass and my body flying or disintegrating from the explosion’s force. I imagine I’ll go “Ah… well.. this is how it ends.” I see myself not resisting (in the way one might think to if one had time). I’ve already made space in my scenario for this kind of possibility… the possibility of being at the JCC, or watching a marathon, or being in a movie theatre, or a classroom, an office party, a mosque… at the wrong moment. That scenario.
It’s not easy being part of a target group, whether you are a Jew, or a non-Jew congregating at a Jewish institution. It’s not easy being a young black man, walking down the street when cops have guns that seem drawn to young black men. And being a Muslim in America now??
Every kind of killing and dying continues only if we remain silent. Individually, as groups, as the world. There is no time like right now to practice speaking up, and out. I think Audre Lorde says it better than me, but, hey, at least I’m practicing.
“I was going to die, sooner or later,
whether or not I had even spoken myself.
My silences had not protected me.
Your silences will not protect you….
What are the words you do not yet have?
What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day
and attempt to make your own,
until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?
We have been socialized to respect fear
more than our own need for language.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen?
Then push yourself a little further than you dare.
Once you start to speak, people will yell at you.
They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal.
And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier.
And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision,
which you may never have realized you had.
And you will lose some friends and lovers,
and realize you don’t miss them.
And new ones will find you and cherish you.
And you will still flirt and paint your nails,
dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said,
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty
that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.”
by Audre Lorde