Idelette McVicker, a dear friend, mentor, and all around stunningly beautiful woman just wrote a post today about her process, her story, her voice.
Tears quickly found themselves in my eyes as I read, and I forced myself to exhale deeply, chest falling slowly as I steadied myself.
Her words hit me hard. My throat felt as though it was closing, and my mind was trying to back away from the feelings. There was a lie that kept trying to win the battle in my brain. “You are not adequate.”
What that said to me was “don’t try,” “leave it be,” “stop writing.” But I couldn’t. Her words struck deep pain in me. Maybe not all of her words. But when she spoke of “silence,” I was wrecked.
“We are meant to grow around a table of words, sharpening our ideas, filtering our thoughts, trying them out in a public space so they find more clarity. We are meant to grow like this, not in silence,” she said.
I grew up in a home where no one knew how to properly communicate. Small things became mountains. Calm discussions quickly escalated into loud ones. Feelings roamed about, unkept.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the home that I grew up in. There is no blame in it. It was how it was. And that’s why, as an impressionable teenager searching for meaning, I taught myself how to be silent.
My words didn’t help anyone. No one heard me. I couldn’t stop their bodies with my fists, and I couldn’t stop the loudness with my words. I wanted so badly to help. To stop the hurting. To fight for justice. To be their strength when they needed it. To gain love, and to mend the brokenness.
Through trial and error, I learned about silence. I learned that the world didn’t want to hear me. I only exposed areas within people that they weren’t ready to see. That they didn’t want to deal with. And so, somehow I ‘learned’ that my voice caused others pain. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone. Ever. So I stopped using my voice. I practiced silence.
I said nothing when others hurt me, when they trampled over me. I said nothing when they took the best of me, and left me with less. I thought that my silence was a gift to them. I thought that by saying nothing, I made their lives easier, happier.
Then one day a foolish boy created a nickname for me: Silent Sarah.
“Silent Sarah” because I had been biting my lip till it hurt. “Silent Sarah” because I hadn’t made the expected noises on that rainy night years ago.
That nickname punctured me. It reaffirmed everything that I thought about myself and about the world around me. I was better off, and others were better off, when I was silent.
Thankfully, as I grew older, I encountered families and friends who didn’t live like I did, like I had. I sat at dinner tables where families yelled, and then laughed seconds later, my heart still racing from the “anger” which they had just expressed, but they were already past it. Forgiveness came quickly to them.
I met people who were honest, who spoke truth without being hurtful. I met people who used their voices, and stood firmly in their beliefs. I met people who shook the foundations of everything I knew.
And slowly, I began to find my voice. I began to realize that silence had never truly served me well. That I was given a voice, and a heart for others for a reason. It took me years to learn how to use my voice, and I’m still not sure that I really know what I’m doing some days (this past week in particular), but I am finally able to look back and see my silence for what it was: a lie. An ill-taught understanding, adopted by someone who didn’t know any better –adopted by me.
Silence is a powerful thing. And yet, so too are our voices.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
So let’s use our voices. Let’s stop stifling ourselves, editing ourselves, and hiding. Let’s speak what we know in our hearts, allowing our voices to ring out.
The world will always try to find something wrong with you. Don’t let it.
Thank you, Idelette, for reminding me of the power of my voice. For being heartbroken over the foolish boy’s nickname for me. For challenging the lies that had become part of me. For wanting to hear me. And for loving me through my process.
I feel as if in this moment, I am setting a little lego woman on a folded paper ship, and sending it out to sea, never to be seen again. One day people will ask, “Where is Silent Sarah?” And I’ll tell them, “She set sail aboard a paper ship. Most likely got eaten by sharks, or kidnapped by pirates. She aint never comin back.” Then I’d pull the piece of wheat out of my teeth, and bow like a gentleman.