For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven…
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…
Always, there has been that tension between speaking and silence.
My senior year in high school, I often ate lunch at my locker. My schedule was different enough from my closest friends that it was easier to be alone than to walk through the commons-area trying to find a place for myself among others. Better to create my own place, just off to the side, leaning against a locker and eating my sack lunch, lost in a book.
I remember still, how it felt—lonely, but almost sacred. I loved that time to myself. But I remember, distinctly, leaving school at the end of the day and not being able to remember if I had spoken to anybody. There were days my mouth felt numb from lack of use.
I had close friends, and teachers I adored. I had acquaintances I smiled at and said hi to in the halls. Whenever we had a substitute teacher who mispronounced my name, both first and last, during role call, there was usually a chorus of voices that joined mine to correct him or her—“It’s Kah-ren! Kah-ren B-york!”
But really talking—asserting myself and speaking up—there was often a struggle there.
And there still is.
Because I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that I sometimes hate the sound of my own voice with the fact that I’m compelled to use it.
Because speaking up brings both connection and alienation.
Because often it all goes beyond words, anyway.
* * *
I’ve been thinking a lot about place recently. About how within all that silence in high school I was finding a place to be myself, learning how through art, and music, and writing, I could find a voice. How, at least for me, silence and space were necessary to cultivate a way to speak. And how, also, there was a danger of staying silent too long, and using that place of silence—that sanctuary—as a place to hide.
Since then I’ve learned that if silence has often felt like a sanctuary, speaking can feel that way as well.
Because speaking takes whatever-it-is outside of you, gives it a less-ghostly form.
Because you can learn a lot when your words reach somebody else. Maybe you aren’t crazy, after all. Maybe you aren’t as alone as you thought. Maybe you really can find the strength.
Because even if speaking up brings alienation—well, then you know, don’t you?
* * *
So I find sanctuary both in silence and in speaking. And I see danger in both. And I find myself right back in the same quandary: keep silent or speak? I know the Sunday School answers, and I want more than that. Is it enough to know for now that there really is a time for both? That one doesn’t always trump the other? Maybe.
I watch one child learning how his words and tone of voice reflect back on him, kindness or hurtfulness amplified. I watch another break her silence to experiment with any number of different voices, unsure which one is really hers. I watch a third discover that it’s true—sometimes you’re actually not allowed to talk, and other times you are, and it’s helpful to at least know what the rules are.
Oh child, I struggle with those things, too.
When does this wisdom thing kick in, anyway?
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