Silence is golden – maybe

I have been rereading Terry Tempest Williams – When Women were Birds. It is about voice, it is about her life, land and family. It is what Terry writes about, always. She download.jpgmakes deep connections to the land but also to her own life and family. The interesting thing about her writing is that I find many connections that make me think about my own life and family – although very different from hers.

In this reading I am caught over and over again about where we find silence. The power, and beauty that silence can hold. Also the terror or fear that silence can create. The voice we choose to share or the voice we keep quiet.

There is the quiet and beauty of the early morning when one goes to listen to the conversation of the birds and sits in silence to learn. There is the silence when fear strikes a woman and she is afraid to speak up or defend herself. There is the silence that comes with loneliness when one loses someone close to them. There is also the pleasure of listening to the silence of a newborn sleeping on my shoulder. (That is golden!)

Where I am touched in this writing is the silence of the voice even when there is noise all around. Terry grew up in a family that talked, discussed and argued. They shared their thoughts with each other and their children. Although she tells us her mother “was a private person, not a silent one. Her mother would often say, “I don’t like people knowing my thoughts.” It is clear they shared much!

I grew up in a family who talked a great deal but I now realize was often silent in what they did not say. What was really thought and cared about was not shared. Those thoughts remained silent. I remember once working so hard to get my Aunt to talk about her teaching. I, being a teacher, wanted to connect and know how she felt – what was hard or easy for her, what were her feeling. The whole conversation was about things teachers in the early days did or could not do. Not once in the hours long talk did she use the word I. Not once did she share a personal note or joy, or frustration or emotion. She was silent but shared so many words.

This type of talking I realize now went on at most gatherings. There was plenty of talk but it came down to the weather, events happening at work or church or what children were doing. I don’t recall ever hearing much about real feelings, beliefs, or which way their politics swayed. Silence was golden so to speak.

As to us children it was always felt by me but not stated that we were best seen but not heard from. In large gatherings we ate in the kitchen – adults in the dinning room. Children off to the basement or outside once eating was over. We were not to hang around the adults. I am sure my Aunts and Uncles wanted time away from kids to chat but it was also clear conversations were not for our ears. Silence was golden.

So much was said in those golden, yet noisy, moments of silence.

Terry Tempest Williams was given her mothers journal after her death – many journals. Once Terry was able to sit down and go through them she found they were all empty. Silence…

What was being said or not said in those empty journals.

My mother had a few journals which were written in but did not reveal much about who she was and what she thought. In later years she kept detailed notebooks about the house, payments, plants but again the emotions were silent. I long to know what was she thinking – she lost her husband early, had three children to raise, she had given up her teaching and needed to find new full time work. She loved art, music and nature. She was a complicated person and there was silence left behind.

All these rambling thoughts about silence brings me to now! It makes me think about my children and also now the opportunity of a grandchild.

I am wondering are my journals a reflection of my upbringing – are they full of words but silent. I wonder what my children think – do they know my thoughts, have we had deep conversation about topics that matter?

Also (very important to me) how do I want to present myself to this new life before us? I am not sure that silence is golden. I think there are time for quiet to listen and learn but I want there to be lots of deep conversations, questions and answers and more questions. I want there to be times when questions don’t have answers so we IMG_0229.jpgmust seek-out those answers together.

I am not so sure that I want that golden silence – I prefer to hear, learn and share my thoughts, emotions and concerns to those around me. This is a skill I am working on at this old age, of late 60’s. I learned well the silence – don’t ask, don’t share what you really think, just wait and be silent.

Not any more – I think I will become that old lady who says what she is thinking and asks about the things that she wants to learn about and model for the young one a life of thoughts, emotions and caring.

So off to my journals to see – are they as silent as my mothers?



About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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2 Responses to Silence is golden – maybe

  1. margaretsmn says:

    Grandchildren are golden treasures. I am enjoying my first and will soon have another one. I used your words about silence to draft a poem that I hope is more than silent. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ramona says:

    Such an interesting exploration of silence. It’s clear that this book has inspired many thoughts about silence in your own family. I’ve read Refuge, a favorite from almost 30 years ago, so I may need to check out When Women Were Birds. Thanks for pointing me to a book that has been thought provoking for you. Love this phrase from your post, “model for the young one a life of thoughts, emotions and caring.”

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