On Being Silent

Predawn is my favorite time to walk, especially in the winter. Newly fallen snow muffles the sound of my footsteps, non-migratory birds flit silently from branch to branch seeking warmth or food, and deer gently pass through the trees foraging for breakfast. This is the best kind of silence, the kind that gives space to reflect, meditate, pray. It’s soothing and healing and renews. It inspires creativity, gives birth to new ideas, brings energy to do wildly ambitious things.

There are other kinds of silence. Cultural norms that tell us certain topics are off limits, nice/good girls don’t talk about that, children should be seen and not heard, husbands rule the household and their word is final. Family secrets that are kept and protect abusers and molesters. Silencing that keeps women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and many others away from the table so their voices are never heard. 

There’s also silence that is the result of the person whose voice is louder than yours, or the person who cries whenever they’re confronted so you stop talking, or the person whose violent words or actions terrify you and keep you from saying a word.

Over the last couple of years, I wanted to write about many things, but I was scared. Scared that I would upset or offend my family members, former co-workers, fellow church members, men, women, people of color, pretty much anyone and everyone. There were also times when I did speak up, only to have people belittle or contradict what I was saying. To be honest, having been on the receiving end of this and other criticism in the past, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through it. 

There’s a price to pay, however, for being silent. Great ideas never get brought to light. Acquaintances never turn into friends. Deserving people go unnoticed and unrewarded. Abuse continues. Sexual harassment continues. Injustices continue. Change doesn’t occur. Truth doesn’t get told. And sometimes people die.

Make no mistake – I am not a brave person. Confrontation is the worst and I’m terrible it. But I’m starting to realize that there are things that need to be said and maybe I’m the one that needs to say them. Maybe there are other people like me that want to have conversations about difficult topics, even if it means feeling incredibly uncomfortable. 

When I reflect on the times I’ve stayed silent, I feel much grief. Because I didn’t speak up, were other people molested or abused? Were they sexually harassed in the workplace? Were they unable to share because I didn’t see them and wasn’t listening? What scars do my children bear because I was too tired and afraid to properly protect them?

Here are some things to think about: 

  • How have you been silenced? 
  • Have you ever silenced someone else? 
  • Do you ever want to talk about something but avoid it because you don’t want to deal with the repercussions? 
  • Do you ever want desperately to share a secret that you’ve been keeping and is killing you but you’re too ashamed or frightened?
  • Does knowing you’re not alone give you the courage to speak up?

One last thing. If you or someone you know needs help, call the appropriate number below. Please don’t stay silent.

Domestic Abuse Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

Another Long December

At the end of last year I wrote what in retrospect seems like a whiny little blog post about how rough 2019 was. Then I wrote nothing else for an entire year. Sure, I composed various blog posts in my head as I was walking, and thought of all kinds of things to write about, even typed a few sentences, but I didn’t publish a single word

I started growing my hair out before 2020, didn’t get a haircut all year, and didn’t spend a lot of time on personal appearances, obviously.

I started writing this post yesterday because I am not a procrastinator! As I looked through my journal and started detailing my life month by month, I had a physical and emotional reaction, got really anxious, eventually had to stop writing, and then had a bout of insomnia where I continued to relive much of the worst parts of the train wreck which was 2020. In the interest of my physical and emotional health, I’ve decided to let the news media continue to do the work of reliving every dreadful thing and I’m going to focus on some dreams and desires for the coming year in the hope that it helps me sleep better tonight. Expect a full report on how that works out – maybe in a year?

I was baking sourdough long before it was cool, but perfected bagels and tried a few other things.

In no particular order and certainly incomplete (because I am a procrastinator!) . . . 

  • Everyone has healthcare no matter whether they’re employed, under employed, or unemployed, whether they are sick or healthy, whether they are wealthy or poor
  • White people accept their racism and privilege and work on becoming antiracist
  • The world transitions away from fossil fuels and moves more quickly toward renewables
  • Realize that there are many alternatives to having old white men to leading our country
  • Add our right to clean water and clean air to the Bill of Rights
  • Change the educational system to encourage free and innovative thinking 
  • Give land back to the people from whom it was stolen
  • Businesses meet the standard for corporate social responsibility regardless of government regulations and
  • Continue to let people work from home 
    • so our highways aren’t filled with fossil fuel guzzling vehicles
    • so people don’t have to chose between living where they can afford or where their family lives or their job and
  • Realize that if their business model doesn’t include a living wage (which is actually $20 – $30 an hour, not the $15 that’s currently being proposed), then it’s not a viable business
Temporarily indulged in a few less than healthy options
Did some crafty and creative things

What are your dreams and desires for the coming year? Are they big things or little things? What will you do to make them come to fruition? If it seems impossible, can you take even one step forward? What is keeping you from taking action? Only asking because I am asking myself the same things.

Watching squirrels was a quarantine highlight
Spent a lot of time tromping around the woods. Might have fallen in the creek once.

When I was out walking this morning (or rather shuffling along in an attempt not to fall on my ass in the ice and snow as Hannah drug me along), I saw a muskrat swimming in the creek along the path. My initial reaction was to feel sorry for the little guy, that water must be so cold! But you know what? That muskrat is doing exactly what muskrats do and he’s uniquely designed to do it. It’s likely the world he lives in is dramatically different from the world his ancestors lived in yet he’s still here. Maybe the right response to all the change that’s occurred in the past year isn’t sympathy or even empathy, despair, anxiety, or outrage, maybe the right response is me just doing what I’m uniquely designed to do. 

A Long December

As the year draws to a close, I find myself slightly optimistic, but only in the sense that perhaps some of the things that happened this year will not recur next year, that lessons will be learned, dramatic changes will occur, and I will become hopeful again. It’s been a long season of lament and where hope once bubbled abundantly through my being, now I find it’s merely a single flickering candle, a flame that will sometimes twist and nearly fade from view or grow brighter, but doesn’t have the ability to shine enough light to show that there is a way, a path, a direction to be taken.

It’s been a season where beloved people and much wanted babies died, where complications from minor surgery turned grave. A season where relationships sometimes bloomed, but also fractured, possibly beyond repair, or changed in a way that’s no longer comfortable or healthy. Sometimes I’ve had to learn that I believed a relationship existed only to find that in truth it existed only in my head.

Social media feeds kept me informed about all manner of politics, of protesting against injustice, scripture quotes, the climate crisis, racism, sexism, violence and abuse, and also the occasional rare meme or tweet that was funny but not at the expense of a fellow human being.

This year I moved to a new apartment, which meant the final gasping breaths of a dream dying, acceptance that maybe it’s just not possible to live in community, even if it’s with people I love and with whom I share similar values. Though I was an active participant in all that occurred I still sometimes wonder what exactly happened, why things turned out the way they did, and what could have been done differently.

As I walked around the parking lot before and after Christmas, I saw dumpsters and recycle bins filled with the aftermath of excessive consumption, shiny new things purchased by parents and grandparents, spouses and children, daughters and sons, things that are supposed to bring happiness and a feeling of good cheer during this holiday season. This seemed rather incongruous as voices of parents yelling and children crying echoed in the hallway outside of my apartment. Was it necessary to buy all the plastic toys that will be on this planet forever? Will we ever learn that we can’t continue to consume at this rate without causing our own extinction? What sort of world will our grandchildren grow up in? Will they have fresh air, clean water, food to eat? Will they suffer from illnesses and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and grandparents?

The one saving grace in this season has been the forest that sits behind my apartment building. As I walk along the path, leaves crunching under my boots, I listen for the birds, watch the squirrels and chipmunks running up and down the trees, watch the deer, who seem as interested in me as I am in them. I feel at peace, refreshed, at home. It’s hard to describe the beauty and the joy I feel when I’m there and I’m sure Thoreau or others have said it much more eloquently than I could hope to. And yet this beauty is also laced with sadness – a developer owns the land and the city has approved the building of twenty plus new homes that will wipe out the majority of the forest. Staying here when that happens is something I’m afraid I won’t be able to bear and I feel intense pressure to figure out the next step.

Will next year be better? It seems unlikely given what I know at the moment. Many of the problems that plague our country and humankind in general are not easily solved and it’s hard to be patient when change is so painfully slow, and quite frankly, when people refuse to acknowledge what is wrong, who is being harmed, and the role that each of us plays in it. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not clear on the path or direction I need to take, but I’m working on figuring it out.

And so, there is that glimmer of hope and I cling to that because without hope, there can be no revolution. And we are desperately in need of a revolution. As the song from Counting Crows goes, “It’s been a Long December but there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” Time will tell, eh?