"She's just discovered her voice"
"Oh. Then, she's gonna be a singer?"
"Well, she's gonna be something . . . aren't you? Yes, yes you are. . . ."
Recently, I found myself waiting for a client in the lobby of DCFS. It was after office hours and the normally crowded and loud waiting area had all but cleared out. A young women and a baby were sitting next to one side of the floor to ceiling windows and an older couple, making small talk amongst themselves, was on the other side. My mind was preoccupied. I felt like I couldn't complete a thought in my head before three others would shoot up, clamoring for my attention. I decided to take a couple of breaths and try to clear my head, my heart. At this moment, the young baby, probably no older than seven or eight months, yelled out in glee; the high pitch yell that you know surprises them as much as you. As I looked over at that beautiful baby girl and smiled, I overheard the young women say, "She's just discovered her voice." The older women, who had been conversing with her husband, was also looking at the baby and responded in a light manner, "Oh. Then, she's gonna be a singer?" The young women smiled and looked down at the child as she replied, "Well, she's gonna be something . . . aren't you? Yes, yes you are."
I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I would have. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought a hundred things at once, yet this time they all made sense. I felt a deep joy as well as a deep sadness; joy for the baby and the bright future she could have and sadness for the many others I see whose lives started out with the same innocence only to have lost their voices or to have their voice's silenced. I wanted to say to that young woman, "Yes, yes she will be something but don't forget that she already is something. Yes, she just discovered her voice so please don't ever let her lose it, please. Help her see that her voice matters that she matters."
They were then all called back to their different visits and I was left alone in the lobby. I couldn't get the phrase "discovered her voice" out of my head. I began to think about my own voice and if I even knew what it was anymore. Had I allowed my voice to be silenced by life, society, experiences, enemies, well or not so well intentioned friends or family members, or even my own self? I knew that I had. I knew that I had lost who I was because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone else was happy with the person I was becoming. I never have wanted to hurt anyone, I never have wanted to be a disappointment so I pleased others based off what I assumed their expectations were for me. Not to say that with some of those choices and opinions I didn't also please myself, because I did. I mean, I'm not a complete push over – just find the level of "complete push over", scale back down two levels and that's where I'll be. Somewhere in that mess of assumptions, expectations, and rules I allowed to be placed upon me, my voice had been brushed aside, quieted, and finally silenced. Shockingly enough, I was the biggest silencer.
I then began to think about why that was? I meet with people everyday that seem to be beaten down by life and who are struggling in ways that I never knew existed. My heart hurts for them but even more so when I see in them what I've seen in me: they become their worst critic. Their voice becomes one of anger and hate towards themselves and those around them and maybe even before they understand what is happening, misery is the new normal. It was then, in that moment of too many thoughts, that hopelessness crept in - my old familiar friend, who always seems to come when I need him least. Being the bully that he is, he rarely travels alone so along came despair, anger, self-pity, fear, and hate. Normally, I'm no match for when they all seem to crowd in upon me but somehow that moment was different.
I thought about the little baby, I thought about her happiness and the power that came to her in discovering her voice. I began to get angry, and for the first time in a long time the anger was for the negative, self-defeating voice in my head. My true voice, the voice I had allowed to be silenced, the voice who can often speak for others needed to start to speak back to the negative inside myself, to find the power again. I heard myself begin to talk back to the hopelessness. I heard myself tell it to get lost, that it wasn't needed and wasn't true. The very fact that I allowed this innocent situation to teach me something meant my voice was coming back and in that there was hope.
So, I challenge you to do the same. If you know your voice, use it to help another. If your voice has been silenced, unearth it, become aware of who or what is behind the silencing and crush it. If you don't know your voice, find it, because you have one. Terry Tempest Williams has said, "Each of us has one. Each voice is distinct and has something to say. Each voice deserves to be heard. But it requires the act of listening."
I'm listening . . . .