As summer draws to a close, I recently realized that I haven’t blogged for quite a while. It’s been a busy two months, with our daughter and her new husband returning to live in Calgary from Nairobi, Kenya….my sister’s beautiful wedding….and personally, embarking on a new project as editor of a Faith and Arts Journal called Kolbe Times. Another big highlight of the summer was that our youngest son got his first real job. He is 20 years old, and you might wonder what took him so long. Peter is a special guy in many ways. He has a number of neurological disorders, including Tourette Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s bright, and funny, and kind – but he also has challenges with social situations, with anxiety and with “tics”, the hallmark of Tourette’s. So when he finally felt confidant enough to apply for a job in a little video game store near our home – and when he got the job! – we were all ecstatic. It’s going really well.
But because he has to “hold in” his tics while he’s at work, he often comes home exhausted and needing a break. Talking is difficult at these times, because the minute he opens his mouth he gets flooded with “vocal tics” – in his case a barking sound that he can’t stop – which makes communication impossible. So he and I have started “talking” in other ways – hand signals, big hugs, smiles, texting each other on our phones (even when we’re in the same room), and little post-it notes. It’s bizarre, but living life with a special-needs offspring is often bizarre, as many parents will tell you.
The whole experience has challenged me to express myself in smaller and smaller sound bites. When you are used to expressing yourself freely and copiously, it’s difficult to put a lid on it when you have something interesting to say. Or even when you have something not-so-interesting to say. But it’s been a very good exercise in “small is beautiful” – and learning to become friends with silence.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from this is that we all talk too much. We too often feel the need to give unwanted advice, suggestions and opinions. We too often feel the need to have the last word, or to share unnecessary information (also known as gossip), or to brag about something, or to justify our behaviour, or to show our cleverness with a sarcastic remark. Too often, words take the place of actions that would do a better job of encouraging and supporting our loved ones. Too often words are all about us getting our own way, instead of just quietly letting things unfold as they should. Too often our words drown out the words of others, and drown out the flow of God’s love and guidance.
Richard Rohr shares some good insights about silence in his book Contemplation in Action:
“One good thing that silence and waiting has taught me is that our lives are always usable by God. We need not always be effective, but only transparent and vulnerable. Then we are instruments, no matter what we do. Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching and using me – even before I perform, or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing.”
As my son would say, “Shhhh…”