TW: There are mentions of rape and child abuse in this post.
People the world over are constantly talking, telling each other about their day, sharing secrets, confessing to their priests, piling lie upon lie, and bestowing terms of endearment upon their loved ones. Language, in various forms, has been around since man first walked the earth. Words are exchanged constantly, all over the world. Even longer than there has been language, there has been silence. Why, then, do words get all the attention?
For some, being unable to speak could be looked upon as a blessing. For others, it’s a curse. I happen to be part of the latter group. As a person who stutters, I deal with this curse on a daily basis. There are so many times that I want to say something, but physically cannot get more than a few awkward sounds out. Someone asks me what my name is, and I have to shorten it to “Lexi”, because I am unable to say my own name. People frequently underestimate my intelligence, as they believe a speech impediment directly correlates to a lack of mental capacity. To be forced into social interaction can be some of the worst experiences of my life. I dread speeches, work-related verbal communication, answering the telephone, and anything involving having to open my mouth and pray to whatever may possibly exist that I will be able to speak clearly, effortlessly, fluently. Normally.
I live in a world of silence. Not only am I unable to say what I want, but I am also unable to say what I need to. My grandmother passed away a few years ago. I held her hand as she lay in the hospital bed, clammy and not completely aware of her surroundings. I looked down at the vacant stare in her denim-blue eyes, my own green ones threatening to spill over as I watched her take her final, raspy breaths. They were growing fewer, with more time between each one. I wanted so badly to tell her how much she meant to me. I wanted to tell her how much of an impact she made on my life, and how much I loved her. I opened my mouth – and couldn’t get past the blockage that had decided to make an appearance. I couldn’t get more than a few sound out, and was still struggling when she took her last breath. The silence in that room – her lack of life mixed with my own lack of speech –was suffocating. I could only sit there next to her, enveloped by the silence. I realized, then, that it was the words I was unable to form that held the weight – it was the absence of them. I knew that she could feel the love I held for her, the worry, the grief, the anger, the deep loss that I was feeling. She could feel it all, and was comforted by it. Had I been able to speak, been able to tell her what I wanted, the words would not have meant as much as the effort of trying to form them. That silent longing to speak told her more than I ever could.
Silences can be the loudest sound in the world, at times. It took four years for a child to be able to beg for help from the people in a position to do something. Beaten, emotionally and physically, by her biological mother and stepfather, silenced seemed the safest thing in the world. Within the silence, there was no shouting. There was never any hitting when everything was silent. There was never the sound of her stepfather’s boots on the stoop, or his keys turning in the lock. In the silence, there was never the clink of ice against the sides of her mother’s glass. In the silence, she was safe. To go to the authorities, to her biological father, took more courage than she thought she would ever hold in her lifetime.
Once everything spilled forth, the people sitting around the table sat back in shock. The bottled up desperation, the things she never said, had everyone reaching for tissues and had the police officers shaking their heads in quiet horror. But, it was the silence she had broken that held the most weight in the room. The silence held all of that truth, all of that fear, all of that confusion, for four years.
Like language, silence occurs around us every day, but it frequently goes unnoticed. Everyone is too focused on what is being said to realize the truth is in the silence. A young woman sat at the podium during the hearing for her rape. Her rapist sat across from her. She tried to restrain herself for most of the time, but could not resist chancing a glance at his face. She wanted to see if he felt even a tiny bit guilty for the visible distress and trauma he had inflicted upon her. Their eyes locked, and the silent tension enveloped them, carried them away from a moment. The accusation, the questioning, the guilt. That silent moment, that silent admission of his guilt, held more meaning for her than anything he would have said during that hearing. The silence held far more truth than his spoken testimony.
Two best friends exchange a knowing look, and then burst out laughing. In that moment, silent communication was made. There was no need for words. Comfortable silences can be shared in the same way as communal grief, passion, and anger may. Silences can be more intimate than whispered endearments, often saying more than the person does.
Silence has existed long before language, and long before man. Why, then, does all the emphasis get placed on the words being spoken? When do the unspoken sentiments get their credit? People turn to language to express themselves. When reflecting back on a conversation, they recall the things said, rather than what was left unspoken. In actuality, silences truly do speak louder than words.
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