It happened like this. I went to bed last week with a voice – albeit a throaty, hoarse one – and I woke without one.
I was in Austin, scheduled to keynote a conference with a gaggle of women who I simply couldn’t wait to meet. They were “Me, too” women – the kind that promise instant and sometimes lifelong connections simply because there are no layers to sift through upon introduction. Bloggers, authors, stylists, women, mothers, a passion burning beneath their skin that whispers, tell your story. Tell any one of your stories.
It was my kind of event – a stripped down, bare bones essential sort of place, in a camp setting where we bunked on hard mattresses and stashed Girl Scout cookies beneath our pillows. There was horse-back riding and ropes courses and cacti, and lots of rain for puddle-jumping and hunkering down. It was perfect, in a sense, except for the voice.
I’ve never lost my voice completely, never whittled it down to a whisper like I did last week. It was frustrating at first, but then, I don’t know, I’m being frank here – kind of freeing once I settled in for the ride.
There was no room for performing. There was no room for small talk, or any talk at all, and I found myself challenged by the idea of sitting in a corner, listening and watching without contributing. I penciled in a quick note on my nametag, “Lost my voice!” in a brief attempt to explain my lack of response when someone would approach me, asking where the restroom was, or were those Toms shoes I was wearing? I would nod, and smile, and make really non-elegant hand gestures, and the rest of the time, silence.
To learn to sit with silence is something I’ve been working toward, an attempt I’m quite often failing. But when it’s forced, when there is nothing but you, voiceless, in a sea of women and cacti and luncheons, something shifts. You allow the silence, because you must. You embrace the silence, because you must.
A funny thing happened, on the day of my keynote. I was scheduled to lead a guided journaling session, of which there was no chance I could possibly squeak out enough sound to fulfill an entire hour of writing prompts. And so, I hopped on my computer to complete a quick Powerpoint presentation, which began like this:
So, I’ve lost my voice.
But that’s OK, because this session isn’t about me losing my voice.
It’s about you finding yours.
And there was slide after slide about the importance of listening to each other, and listening to ourselves, and maybe – just maybe – allowing enough silence to reverberate between the two.
How often do we listen to the advice of others without first seeking our own? How often do we speak the words of others without first forming our own? How often do we hope for the path of another without first walking along – rain boots and cacti – our own?
And so, last week, I learned to sit with myself. To take good care of myself, and my voice and to rest, and listen, and be. No masks, no performances, no pretense or objective.
It was what it was – rain and woods and quiet.
[photo credit: chelsea laine francis]