Poetic words of the book, Heart Roar, are resonating with me inside a forced silence. My bucket list has long included attending a retreat where talking is not allowed and connection comes through self reflection. Making time for quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud does not come easily to me. I get a small private retreat during my daily lap swimming. A more extensive one is available at a monastery in Cullman, Alabama. A silent retreat such as that would satisfy the one on my bucket list. Can you imagine not having conversation, keeping all your thoughts to yourself (and God), being comfortable with continual and complete silence?
Experiencing the 3rd bout of laryngitis is teaching me a few things. The first one came in childhood. I recall my mother saying, “the house has never been this quiet.” Hard to imagine that my little voice made that much difference mingling with that of four siblings. Perhaps I had already taken to heart mother’s advice of “if you want to be heard, you’d better speak up.” My husband says I project well when public speaking. Yet, none of those comments rang true at a recent family reunion among 63 family members. I tried to share the stories behind how the incredible event had come to be.
The fact that I randomly found that New York retreat center while surfing the internet in Florida; the fact that it was located just 15 minutes from my father’s assisted living residence; the fact that his 87th birthday would be celebrated in “Lindsley Hall” which is named after David Lindsley — the father of the man who introduced my parents on a blind date in 1954; the fact that my father’s closest cousin had gone to camp at the same place as a child; the fact that my father’s family and his cousin’s family shared a duplex (which is still rented) just minutes down the road; the fact that dad graduated from the nearby high school in 1949; the fact that myself and all four siblings were born in the nearby Cornwall on Hudson hospital; the fact that this space happened to be available for our family’s retreat at a reasonable cost for the exact dates we had chosen. The location for this family reunion seemed appointed, not random or coincidental. To me, all these facts were truly extraordinary.
I shouted above the noise inside Lindsley Hall there at Camp Olmsted. Still, I couldn’t contain the enthusiasm of people’s need to converse. Many had not seen one another in over a decade. So, one comment from me just led to more echoing voices of their comments. I had to laugh in the face of my inability. I was not projecting well at all. In fact, I was apparently being summoned to an entirely different, subsequent, retreat. Some heard the random facts I had found so fascinating, while others were busy enthusiastically sharing their own stream of coincidences. In the end, what I had to say didn’t matter near as much as the gift of time spent together. The reunion weekend was absolutely extraordinary, even though I came away without a voice. Literally, my voice was gone. This new bout of laryngitis has me thinking a lot.
In a Book of Tiny Prayers, Bryonie Wise notes:
I doubt the courage
My bones are made of
A breath finds her way in
And her way out
The half-way-almost-full moon
My heart sighs
And quietly whispers;
Bryonie’s poetry teaches me to cling to those whispers of my heart with deeper gratitude. Silence has never been my strong point. Watching my mother lose her voice to Alzheimer’s was heart-wrenching for me. Guessing her desires, needs, and wants was more complicated and exasperating than parenting my own children. I recalled being able to bring peace to my children in those early years with more ease … or perhaps such moments are merely better and brighter in retrospect.
The most difficult journeys in life seem to bring the greatest loss for words. People struggle with what to say when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, and when someone dies cliches often speak louder than heart-felt-prayerful-words. There is an urgency that overcomes us, like a deep need to make it better. Some things are not made better with words; they are made better with silence. Our presence is the present, the very thing that makes the pain feel less intense for the one suffering. If the stairs are not well lit, trusting the path can be difficult. Trust in God comes more from the things we cannot handle rather than the things we can (or think we can).
At the reunion we celebrated talents and treasures and lessons gleaned, from one another and our ancestors. In the final year of my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, I learned to be quieter for her sake. Her poetry was a comfort book; reading it aloud brought comfort to her and me. In between, I learned to enter the silence that had entrapped her, and cherish the power of touch to ease her anxiety. Holding her hand, wrapping her in a blanket, making sure “Busy Betty” was in her arms, and lessening the noise around her, all became gifts in the forced silence. My father kept the beloved doll (Busy Betty now sits propped up on his bed). The Alzheimer’s journey of loss prepared me for other losses which have since come. I look forward to checking that silent retreat off my bucket list, soon. Making time for quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud will no doubt gift me with a newfound peace, whenever I am at a loss for words.
Before closing, I would like to share a different kind of gift. Hope Matters now has an App so you can connect anytime, anywhere, with what’s on my heart. There, you can experience where this journey of writing and advocating has taken me since 2011, as well as a taste of what the future holds for this (newly) non-profit organization. Thanks for being part of this amazing learning curve in my life. And, thanks to Beverly, a talented ambitious military mom, at PowerUp Design. Get it on your PC here or follow the prompts below for mobile use.