I have a very dear friend who moved back to Nacogdoches several years ago. He attends all the SFA home basketball games, so I get to visit with him whenever we’re in town to watch the Lumberjacks.
The first time I introduced Mark to my husband, he said, “Sharon and I were in choir together in high school.” My husband’s shocked response was, “She was in choir?”
After three decades of marriage, Brian hadn’t a clue that I had actually tried out for and participated in the NHS Chorale and The Notables my senior year. Apparently, my singing voice didn’t lead someone to automatically assume that I ever sang to anything more than the car radio.
I love to sing, and I love to talk. I’m not sure I do justice to either, but I am a very verbal person. I enjoy expressing myself, and like to speak in front of crowds, but I wasn’t always confident enough to do so. As a four-year-old, I used to cling to the hem of my mother’s dress, and hide behind her when people spoke to me. My parents feared I might be socially awkward, and worried about how I would fare when I began school.
Their fears were short-lived. I absolutely loved everything about first grade. A close friend of my mother’s observed me in my new environment at the beginning of the school year, and she was completely stunned. She later exclaimed, “I saw Sharon walking down the hall of Raguet Elementary like she owned the place.”
After many years, as a much older version of that first-grader, I have dug deep within, and found that same confidence; I have found my voice. And it is through my writing that I have found myself.
It’s a sad fact about our existence that we usually don’t understand the true value of something until it’s gone. For the last couple of weeks I have been battling with the allergies that come with Spring-time in East Texas. Pollen and Ragweed, thou art heartless allergens! And thanks to those two pesky adversaries, I completely lost my voice.
There is never a good time for losing your voice, but as a counselor, it is next to impossible to do your job when you can’t communicate. I have taken this unfortunate opportunity to embrace my silence, as the last few days have truly opened my eyes to the various types of voices we each have: a speaking voice, a writing voice, an inner voice, an inside voice, a singing voice, a signing voice, a voting voice, and no voice at all.
Not being able to communicate is frustrating, but imagine the frustration when you aren’t heard? I’m not just referring to the inability to make sound come out of your mouth, I’m talking about not being able to express yourself, your opinion, your concerns, your hopes, your dreams, or your vision due to a language barrier, fear, or oppression.
I felt this exact frustration earlier in the week. I was in our office at work, and a parent who couldn’t speak English was struggling to voice her concerns. There was a misunderstanding that occurred before I entered the room, but I could tell that the parent was upset. I walked over to where she was sitting, and I touched her arm and said, “You have a very sweet daughter.” She looked up at me, and though she probably didn’t understand a word I said, she felt my empathy, compassion, and concern. She said, “Thank you,” and hugged me as she began to cry.
Showing people you care is a language everyone can understand.
This experience reminded me of my grandmother. When she was ninety-seven, she battled dementia after several small strokes. I was at her house because my grandfather died. There were many people walking in and out of the room causing more noise than usual. Nana was confused. In the midst of the commotion, she motioned to me, and said, “Sit here.” She pointed to a chair that was directly by the recliner where she was positioned. One of the many relatives had just commented after mentioning my grandfather’s death, “Well, I don’t think she knows what’s going on anyway.” I didn’t agree. When I looked in Nana’s eyes, I saw more than a blank stare. I saw sadness, and sorrow, and deep loss. In her eyes, I heard her heart break. I will always believe Nana knew Papa was gone. The words were trapped inside her, immobilizing her emotions and preventing her grief from rising to the surface.
We take our voices for granted. We spend too much time and energy talking. We don’t listen, or we listen in the wrong way. People speak not only with their voice, but also with their eyes, and their hearts. We need to open our ears and hear what they say when they say nothing at all.
As I’ve been pondering “voices” of late, I think it’s no coincidence that these thoughts occurred during election week. What better time is there to make our voice heard than through the democratic process of voting?
I love to vote. I think it’s both an honor and a privilege, and I never take it lightly. I usually get a little misty-eyed when I think about the importance of my vote. It’s a responsibility I refuse to take lightly, and I looked forward to Super Tuesday when I could exercise this very important right. I left home extra early so I would be in line when the polls opened. My plan was to finish this task and still manage to get to work on time.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans? They usually go all kinds of crazy.
As I arrived inside the polling place, there was already a line. The election workers were frantically trying to get the voting machines to work. They had made calls for assistance, and were waiting for answers and instructions. After waiting for twenty minutes, I decided to cut my losses and leave. I would come back later in the day.
When I was finally able to get away, I returned to the polls to perform my civic duty. I was welcomed back, and received my ballot with ease. I went to a voting machine which was located on the back row in the far corner, because I felt it was a little more private, and I began scrolling through the names and making my choices. As I finished, the screen told me to select the “submit and print” button. I excitedly heard the machine printing my choices, but the smooth sound of democracy in action came to an abrupt and horrific halt when I realized the noise I heard was that of the machine eating my ballot.
A red “Alert!” followed by an exclamation mark appeared on the screen. In bold letters it instructed, “Ask for assistance from an election official.” I raised my hand and uttered, “I need help.”
One of the officials quickly came to my aid, and when he looked at the screen, he said, “I’m not sure what to do.” He called for the election judge/monitor to come look, and as she was heading that way, he touched the screen and it immediately instructed him to unlock the machine and retrieve my ballot. What the heck? Who jams a voting machine?
Apparently, I do.
Fortunately, the ballot printed correctly, although it looked like an accordion. I gave my best effort to smoothing it out, and as I slid it through the last hurdle I needed to clear in the voting process, my ballot was accepted.
I know this may sound a little dramatic, but for a moment, I felt that my voice might not be heard. That my vote might not count! It was the hanging chad fiasco of 2000 all over again!
But my vote was counted, and my voice joined in with the chorus of millions of other voters, and together we sang, “Let freedom ring.”
Being without a voice, or at least without an audible one, has made me appreciate my lot in life. I’ve put myself in the shoes of others, and have seen through new eyes how countless numbers of people go unheard, and unnoticed.
As we learn to look around us, and to listen, and lead, and express, and hear, and speak, and remain silent, and question and vote, and participate, we will become aware of the multitude of words that are voiced within the sound of silence.
As you go through the different seasons of your life, I hope that you will understand and experience the awesomeness of silence; of being still; of knowing. For it’s in that quiet place that you will reflect, and listen, and love, and learn, and find your voice.
When you truly open your mind, and heart, and ears, you will hear the voice of God, and your path will become clear.
Song of the week: “Give Me Words to Speak,” by Aaron Shust