There are many things in life you cannot rehearse for. I know this, of course, at an intellectual level. But still yet, well, I rehearse nearly everything. The conversation before a meeting, the smile I will grace at the event that evening, the conversation I want to have with my father the next day. I plan things out in my head. I review what I have said at the end of the night and feel my insides twist around themselves as I groan in embarrassment, regret, wishing that I had just learned to keep my mouth shut more than I had.
So I have tried to teach myself quietness. Softness. Calmness. The kind where you wait to be spoken to, the kind where you are the last to raise your hand, the kind where you are so still you are barely there. You never regret what you say then, do you? You can’t possibly regret what you say when you haven’t said anything at all.
For several months now, I have been trying to figure out for myself what controlling my tongue means, what it looks like, how it feels, what it yields. I speak a lot, usually out of anxiousness, usually when I have a lot to say that I have held back from sharing. But mostly out of anxiousness. Sometimes I take up too much space at the table. I do that out of competitiveness I think. I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly why I am the way I am but I am trying (fervently) to get to the bottom of it. But I supposed I have been trained to try and outshine my peers, I have That’s how you get the job right? The scholarship, the appointment, the accolade? That’s how you stand out from the crowd, make your voice worth hearing, and that requires being heard.
Something in me doesn’t like that Mona anymore. She is old and distant, a faded someone I have desperately tried to outgrow, but like my own charcoal shadow, she reappears every time the light fades. But I am working on it. I am. I have gotten better I think. At trying to imitate grace, at how to train my jaw and back and feet to sit silently for an hour or two. How to not speak in a room of voices. How to grip the bottom of my chair when I feel the bubbling up at the edge of my lips of something that I know I will never wish I had said but will most certainly wish I never had for years and years to come as the flashbacks wash over me and my body shudders each time.
When I was younger, people used to ask me if I wanted to be a public speaker. I laugh at that. What sort of job is it to just speak? To dedicate all one’s time to talk? What kind of life is it in the spotlight, what does that bring but pain and grief and people who turn their back on your when the lights go out and the audience empties? There is nothing that fills me with more fear than the idea of being known as a voice. As a loud voice. How much simpler would life be, to be silent behind the scenes? To make noise in the comfort of your living room, during a gentle, curated, tea-time conversation among friends? To make noise in the pages of a book carefully edited and mulled over before sending off to print? How much gentler would life be if I could only shed the weight of regretted words and practice the art of silent melting. Where you disappear when you need to, can be forgotten and also softly admired, from the places you thoughtfully chose, to stand and listen and maybe every now and again form words but never those you regret, never ones that bring you pain.
I romanticize silence, I think. I crave it. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to mute it all. Watch peoples faces as they yell and not be able to hear anything but the subtle sounds of my own organs thumping and churning and breathing. I wish to be soft, like velvet, like a breeze that moves things but you cannot hear its presence. It comes and only brings relief. It comes and only reminds people of beauty. It comes and softly, gently. It leaves, and never ever makes the evening news. No one remarks on the breeze for more than a moment. No one marks the day the softness came in a calendar of pain.
Somehow, I didn’t (or I didn’t want to) realize that silence can hurt. It can slice me straight through and leave me shattered. Snatch away violently my own ability to scream and leave me stupid, still, foolish and childlike in the face of my own humiliation. That in the face of danger I might not run at all if I get too used to stillness. That if I trained myself in grace and goodness, when it was time to sound the alarm, to shatter someone’s eardrums with the sound of my own grief, that I would not be able to. I never thought silence could too, bring me shame. I thought only words could do that.
I thought once upon a time that if I was still and quiet and polite long enough that I could make it through the eye of the storm and it would all just pass. I never thought for once that some things chase you, some people are just too terrifying, too far away from their own humanness, that silence can be seen as weakness, that I could be preyed on, manipulated, held out in the palm of someone’s hand and all along my small feeble voice would fail me.
I used to know how to be aggressive. To say what I needed to say and not think twice about what anyone else would have until I got home and was left in the dark of my room and everything echoed in my head. I used to be brave and tough. I have forgotten all of that. And I did not earn Grace in exchange, or magically turn into a swan. I just, well, lost my voice. Become that same little girl I was, just without a sound, without a clue, left even more vulnerable and ridiculous than before.
I wonder what it is like to know the world beyond its extremes. To know what the middle feels like, where the sensible forms of life dwell, the kind that makes sense and are whole and do not demand me to give up all of something or the other to be beautiful. Simple switches are easy to maintain: turn it on or off. To not have to think too hard, to clearly have to choose to seek always or never again. It is harder, I suppose, to expand the spectrum, to see all the hues, to fumble around with enough language to name every individual thing for itself and not for its relationship to another, to know how to determine when it is right to do what, what is appropriate when, and to figure it all out fast enough so that when emergency strikes or foolishness trembles behind your clenches teeth, that you make the right call before it haunts you later that night.
I have often been told that I am from a people of The Middle. That goodness is found in manners and manners are about putting things in their proper places. I have long known those words but not really known them at all. But I know that I must, so desperately, urgently, crucially, figure it out sooner, rather than later. So, here’s to a voice? Here’s to (maybe tomorrow, someday, one day) honoring silence and never abandoning my own sound. Bismillah.