Silence on a Paper Ship

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.

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Sweaty Bottoms, Beautiful Blues, and Being Wrong

The Aegean Ocean stretched in front of me. Cool. Calm. And inviting.
Sunlight glittered on each ripple, and danced within the crest of each wave.

I was surrounded by color, each one more glorious than the first. Black sand on the beach. Red lava rock on the cliff face. And the blue’s… oh dear lord, the blue’s were incredible. The blue of the ocean was more akin to a flawless azure stone – deeply colorful, sparkly, and magical. Depending on one’s eye level, the blueness ranged from the color of Daniel Craig’s eyes (he’s not my favorite bond, but holy hell, he’s got some baby blues), to Cameron Diaz’s eyes, to Zooey Deschanel’s eyes, to the color of that navy sweater that your grandma gave you – the one that has its own “special” area reserved in the back of your closet.

My bathing suit was stuck to my body.

In my opinion, the best thing about plunging into any ocean is to get to that point where your body is almost over heating. Where you’re ready for the cool relief that the water will undoubtedly bestow upon you. It may involve sweating. And your suit may slip into uncomfortable areas as a result of said sweating. But you know it’ll all be worth it.

I was ready for the water. I looked over at my younger sister. Our eyes had a conversation:

S – Water time? One eyebrow raised in anticipation.
R – Oh yeah baby. Im ready. Smirk of a smile.
S – This is going to be epic. Huge grin.
R – Who say’s this isn’t a nude beach? Starts untying the straps around her neck.

“No! Rachel! There’s a sign right there.” Points. “It says something in Greek, but I’m SURE that the red X across the naked looking bodies is universally understood by humans” (other life forms may not understand it, but humans were sure to).

She gave me a look as if to say youre-lucky-im-in-a-nice-mood-or-id-already-be-nude.

“Alright, lets do this!”

But before our perfect peach sized bottoms even had the chance to move off of the chairs that held them, we both gazed out towards the water, our puzzled expressions clearly visible.

A group of three Europeans in their mid-forties had also felt the need to dip their sweaty bodies into the salty Greek ocean. However, they seemed to be having trouble walking. Each step was followed by flailing hand motions and wobbly stances. They muttered words to each other in their own language, hands still flailing.

What. On. Earth. Were. They. DOING!?

Just walk into the water people. Is it that difficult? Are you trying to exercise while walking? Is this some sort of new awkward European dance-walk that I don’t know about? Come on!

One of the larger of the three strangely jerked his leg forward, then to the right, then his hands were raised above his head, then they jerked to the left for balance, and then he fell altogether. Oversized limbs crashing into the pristine water.

What the hell is going on? Rachel and I made a few jokes, detached our suit bottoms from the seats below us, and approached the delicious looking ocean.

Peering into the water in front of me, I saw sand. Beautiful sand. Thoughts of “and they think we’re crazy” ran through my head. I looked over at my sister and smiled. The water was wonderful as it slid over my legs and ran between my toes. That’s when my foot slipped. My arms went out in opposite directions, eyes wide in disbelief. I had to plant my one foot firmly where it stood in order to regain my balance and my dignity.

I was standing on top of solidified lava.

The solidified lava, which extended out and around us in ripples, was covered in an algae-like substance, and was therefore incredibly slippery. It was in that moment that the lightbulb lit up over my head.

Santorini was, and still is, a volcano. Thousands of years ago when it erupted, the lava and hot ash covered the surrounding area for miles. And I’m no geologist, but I’m confident that the slippery substance under our feet that looked like black tar was solidified lava from the volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.

So that was why the three Europeans had been stumbling all over the place like they were intoxicated. It was the slippery underwater lava! Of course!

As we walked back to our hostel, dripping with the delicious blue water of the Aegean Sea, I apologized in my head for judging the three Europeans. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s often a subconscious decision that I make – to judge others.

There’s something to be said about making mistakes and being wrong, and then doing what we can to own up to our part and admit our failures. I used to think this showed weakness. And by golly, I wasn’t weak! But no. I’ve learned that this form of humility shows strength.

Since that day in Greece, where I thought I saw an awkward European water dancing troupe, I’ve made a conscious effort to squash my judgements about others. When you take others as they are, without pre-judging them or putting them in boxes, you allow them room to breathe. And in turn, you’re able to breathe, and to accept people as they are.

Each person on this planet is uniquely beautiful in their own way. It’s only once we put aside our wrongful judgements, that we’re able to see them for who they are.

*Raises glass of Neo-Citron* Here’s to the uniquely beautiful mosaic of people that surround us!

Blood Trails and Bamboo

The country road that stretched in front of us was beautiful. Dad and I sat on the front bench seat of our old Buick. He was driving. I was eleven.

We lived on a large bamboo farm, surrounded by forests, streams, and a pond that smelled of skunk cabbage and crab apples. We didn’t often have visitors.

Crossing the train tracks, I could see our odd shaped mailbox. Ten seconds away, we watched as an unknown car drove out of our driveway and turned onto the street. Though the car’s windows were murky, I was able to discern heads in the backseat. It was as if the unknown vehicle was caught in a slow motion sequence and we were caught with it. Heads turning as it turned.

Turn. Brake. Park. The car engine shut off and our feet hit the ground. We entered our house through the front door. Most times we used the back door near the kitchen, but today, the front door was the smarter choice. It was closer to us.

The screen door was still swaying back and forth on its worn hinges as we entered the house through the living room.

“Miriam?! Rachel!??”

Trailing behind my dad, I began to see what he saw. I heard myself yell out for my sisters as well, panic rising in my voice.

Blood carved itself a dotted path along the hardwood floor, winding all the way around the kitchen, down the hallway, and into Rachel’s room. The blood soaked carpet suggested that Rachel’s room was where it began. Oh yeah, and the broken glass. Her window was broken, glass pieces the size of triangular shaped post cards littered the floor beneath the window.

“Sarah, run to Joanna’s. See if she knows anything.” My dad raced to the phone as I barrelled out the back door, tripping over the bamboo shoot that was clawing its way up and out of the cement.

My mind was battling itself. Shock. Stunned silence. Question after question. We had only been gone for twenty minutes. Miriam was old enough to watch over Rachel. What could have happened? Why was there so much blood? Who was in the mysterious car?

Joanna wasn’t home. Neither was her massive white dog. But that’s not important.

In my mind, I ran like the wind. If scouts had been watching me, I could have been famous. So fast. So fast that I flew past the note taped to the back door. The note that explained everything.

Dad was smart. He hit redial and spoke to someone for a minute before joining me on my medal worthy sprint to the car.

Next thing I knew, we were at the hospital. Time travel could have been involved. I don’t know. All I know is that we found Rachel and Miriam in the hospital. Rachel’s wrist was a bloody mess, resembling a small animal’s brain. Miriam was white. She looked exhausted.

As the doctor stitched up Rachel’s wrist, Miriam told us a story.

It ended up being much less thrilling then dad and I had thought. My imagination had run wild. I think it took off with the unknown car. Who knows if it came back.

Miriam was in the bathroom. Rachel wanted in. Miriam said no. Everybody needs a little bathroom time. Rachel got frustrated. She went to the window and banged on it with her wrist. The thin glass shattered instantly. Blood started gushing. Rachel cried out. Miriam came running.

M mopped at R’s wrist with a handful of tea towels. The blood on the floor was inevitable. Miriam called her best friend’s mom and told her to come quick. She scribbled a note:

“Rachel is cut. Nicole’s mom is driving us to langley memorial hospital.”

The window got fixed. Rachel’s wrist healed nicely, with a few teeth-like marks to tell the story. And Miriam and Nicole became better friends.

I would never forget the blood trail on the floor though. Or the tiny thought in my brain that someone had kidnapped or killed my two sisters.

I freaking love my sisters. Luckily for me, neither of them follow my blog. So they can’t correct me if I got the details wrong, or try to tell me that I would never have been a famous track star. Only the bamboo knows how fast I ran that day.

I’d like it a lot

I like to do push ups while I wait for the toast to pop. Fit in a few planks and some dips while the water boils. It’s become a nightly routine. Tight muscles. Toast. Water.

“Damn, it’s hot.” She yells across at me.

New wrinkles are writing themselves beneath my eyes. My smile won’t quit. Each minute makes me feel alive.

I can’t tell whether it’s lotion or sweat that is making my legs look so glazed. Maybe both. I’m reminded of that beach on the Island. Where the sun melted me. And the salt water licked the dust from my bronze feet.

The rain makes me pale. Oh well. Not much to be done. She’s right though. It is hot.

My feet find their way to the door. I turn and wave, to no one in particular. Merely tracing my hand through the air feels comforting.

She looks up. Cheeks swollen like misshapen muppets. Our smiles return and laughter silently seeps from our wrinkles.

The toast is up. Muscles happy.

If only I could feel the satisfaction from having a pair of strong hands wrap themselves around my shoulders, checking the integrity of my claims. There’s nothing I want more right now. To be held by strong hands. To sit in contented silence, warmth approaching slowly.

I’d like it if you read out loud to me. I’d like it a lot.