My newspaper column published in The Daily News, Batavia, NY, 05/10/08
Time to Give Words a Rest
Recently, college and high school students participated in a national Day of Silence “to bring attention to anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) name calling, bullying and harassment and effective responses.”
Last Sunday, I attended The Music of Modern American Composers presented by the Genesee Wind Ensemble at LeroyHigh School. What do these two events have in common? Glad you asked.
Sometimes words interfere with our experience of life. You might think this a strange comment coming from someone who spends most of his time crafting ideas into words. Sometimes I feel bombarded by words and wish they would just go away, at least for a while.
On Sunday I had a chance to sit for a time without words interfering. Wind instruments meditated, reflected and exploded into melodies while percussion instruments punctuated the woodwind airs, sometimes racing to keep up with each other. A rendition of Shenandoah begged for its familiar words. I managed to content myself with humming along rather than singing out loud. Moods, feelings and visceral experience took hold of me without a single word uttered. Later, I could only say I enjoyed the concert but couldn‘t put my experience into any better words.
I read about the Day of Silence but had no campus handy where I could experience the event. I know reading about it is not the same as being there. Yet, to me, silence more eloquently portrayed the difficulties and challenges of LGBT students than any words could.
Many years ago I lived in a monastery and experienced on a daily basis the volumes silence speaks. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many written and spoken words over the centuries have tried to describe the human experience- its emotions, trials and joys? Much remains unsaid. To some extent, words cannot do justice to our common life story.
When lost for words about a particular topic, I am fond of chalking it up to being “just one of life’s mysteries.” I have experienced many an event, feeling or encounter for which words fail me. How do you describe a Hawaiian sunset?
Words can also crush us. It’s easy to say “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Living this statement becomes much more difficult when taunts come our way accompanied by derisive laughter. How many times do we lash out at others we see as beneath us or maybe just different from us. Maybe we are just expressing our fears, insecurities and hurts for which we have no adequate words. What if we take some time to experience our feelings without labeling them? Perhaps then we can use our words more constructively the next time our feelings show up.
Life Lab Lessons
1.Choose some time to be silent for a while.
2.Make an effort to shut off the words in your mind.
3.See what feelings float around inside you.
4.Let them be there without comment or labels.
5.Now think about how you can best express yourself and your feelings.