Audre Lorde had been a prolific writer, who moved me when she said, "I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me.
One summer years ago a young woman came as a Quaker Witness for Tar Creek. She was so moved by her experiences here, she returned year after year to help us at our annual conference. I flew out to California to go to her wedding that would be held at Asilomar.
Asilomar's rich history dates back to its origins as a YWCA Leadership Camp built in 1913. Known as Monterey Peninsula's "Refuge by the Sea," the state park is located on 107 acres of state beach and conference grounds, within the quaint and scenic town of Pacific Grove.
What I experienced during that wedding ceremony was profound. I hadn't studied and did not know what would happen there at Asilomar and had not prepared myself. It was gentle. But I learned how loud silence is when a room full of people with connections with the bride and groom joined them in saying nothing for an untimed period, all focusing on the couple and their hopes and wishes, blessings on their lives about to begin together. My head was full and yet we all sat waiting until finally someone stood and expressed their thoughts for them and sat back down, as we waited yet again until the next person was moved to speak for them. This went on in timeless space until no more people spoke then the couple spoke to each other. And it was done.
As Sarah Dessen, author of 'Just Listen' might have said, “Silence was so freaking loud.”
Back before the Bicentennial, while taking classes at NSU in counseling, I remember having awakened one morning suddenly from a deep sleep aghast that I had lost my voice and therefore my career in education, then realized, as a counselor, my role would be more the listener than the speaker and knew I had chosen this occupation well. It was only a dream, I woke to tell the dream.
It's been 3 days without a voice for real now. the old "give it a rest," hasn't worked yet, but there is always tomorrow.
There is a humbleness that settles in when you scramble to find someone, anyone to answer your phone and be you. To speak for you when you are unable. It happened this week and the callers heard me in lots of different ways, as a 5-year-old girl and several men of differing ages.
That's what I have been doing since retirement, I have been speaking up for the voiceless. The land and the water impacted by the toxins in the Tar Creek Superfund Site, as well as the children born and yet unborn. Seeking a clean and safe environment.
I am looking always for ways to give youth a voice and to train them to know that what they say is valuable and actually vital.
Audre Lorde had been a prolific writer, who moved me when she said, "I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? She continued with, "I began to ask each time: What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth? Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you, interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end." (That's something I would have said!)
And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will lose some friends..., and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
The slogan mounted on the Homeland Security website encourages us to break our silences. They say, "every day is different than your neighbor’s—filled with the moments that make it uniquely yours. So if you see something you know shouldn't be there—or someone's behavior that doesn't seem quite right—say something. Because only you know what’s supposed to be in your everyday. Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe. "If You See Something, Say Something®" engages the public in protecting our homeland through awareness–building, partnerships, and other outreach."
Silence is golden. Sometimes not so much. There will be times you need to speak, times you need to speak up and those other times when you realize when rallied together voices are powerful and profoundly beautiful.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
Rebecca Jim is the executive director of the LEAD Agency (www.leadagency.org).