Silence Is Rusty #6

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This is no normal Wednesday Hump Day, but my personal Hump Day in my Twelve Days of Silence. To mark the day, a mostly lighter look at the silent treatment.

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To aid healing, I am to drink a lot of water, half of my body weight in ounces every day. I am a large person so that means, well, it means I am filling my container often.  And emptying it just as often. At night, I am tickled when I get four straight hours before “the call” can no longer be ignored.

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The second day, Julie fell into the habit of mimicking me; not making fun of me, but doing as I was. I had made hand motions which she did not comprehend. Instead of asking me what I meant, she replied with hand motions. I had to grab my pad and ask her to use words. Even more, I had found that I really needed to hear her voice. She replied, “This is new for me, too.” And so it has affected both of us.

On Sunday, my nine-year-old grandson really struggled with talking to me. At first, he mouthed words to me. (I’m not supposed to mouth words, but fall into it a bit.) I wrote him a note asking him to please speak normally to me. The rest of the afternoon, each time he spoke he still couldn’t muster anything much more than a whisper—something I never thought I’d hear from him!

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I went to the grocery store yesterday. One of my favorite gals was working the cash register. She also struggled to speak up to me, with most of her words in the hushed tones of the hospital room of a very ill person.

I went prepared. On the reverse of my “I can’t talk. I had throat surgery” note, I wrote a couple of sentences of explanation. They paid off as the three folks to whom I showed the note all wanted to know a few details.

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When one cannot talk, many opportunities get lost. Those little quips one makes during a movie get lost on the cutting room floor. The odd or interesting statistics that come to mind while watching a football game remain on the sidelines.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one comments on it, did it really happen?

By the time I can grab my pad and write my quip or stat or fact, and include enough info to provide context so that it would make sense, the moment is gone.

So many Eilerisms are being lost.  I know, I know.  It’s hard on you, too.

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In everyday life, we make so much small talk, so many passing comments, that saying nothing at all in these moments feels like when two people are angry at each other, snubbing each other, with no desire to talk to each other. It can be disconcerting when Julie and I are near each other, say working in the kitchen.

If we make eye contact, I smile at her so that she knows I’m in here. Even better is to touch each other. Before we got married, I told her how important to me are little touches, how they help me feel connected and loved. From day one of our marriage, we have been touchers. My favorite place is her . . . um, well, let’s just say that she looks very tempting . . . er, I mean great in a pair of jeans.

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On Saturday, it got up to 66 degrees in Indianapolis, shattering the January 20 all time high by five degrees. Julie and I sat on our front porch, basking in the sun. Our neighbor was going by with her dogs and walked up for a chat. After Julie explained about me, the two of them talked. I got the rare reference or eye contact, pretty much what I thought would happen. I felt like I was listening in on a conversation, not a part of one.

If I could never speak again, I can only begin to fathom how much it would impact my life. How separated from the world I would feel.

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So, solve the problem!  Just use hand motions, right? It’s as simple as that. Replace your words with gestures. Trouble resolved.

A friend correctly noted that, unless you agree beforehand on what hand signals mean, they do not work. I’ll say.

Julie’s coworker suggested that she answer my every hand signal with, “What’s that, hon? You want me to make you some toast?” Ugh.

After nearly a week, still only the most rudimentary hand motions are effective. I can indicate when supper is ready by doing the spoon to mouth action. I can nod my head for yes and shake it for no. That’s about it.

I’m practicing a very special motion to try on Julie. My goal is to get her to ask, “What’s that, girl? Timmy fell into the well?”

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I took a phone call yesterday. Oh yes I did.

I was texting with a friend. She wanted to share something with me that was too much to type. So, I suggested a hand signal (!) that I would use for my end of the call. I would click my fingers.

Twice as she talked I clicked to indicate that I was liking what I was hearing. To end the call, I literally clicked off. To give my feedback, I texted her.

I am pleased that I was able to disprove the old saying. You CAN teach an old dog new clicks.

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Make good use of suffering

I wrote this the fifth day after having surgery on my vocal cords, hoping to raise the pitch of my voice.  I would have to refrain from talking for twelve days.  Many lessons in life were coming together.

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“Being a person is hard.”

The day after I told my daughter, Jackie, about my gender dysphoria, this was her primary reaction. For the dozens of people I told face-to-face, and then the hundreds who provided feedback when I went public online, Jackie’s reaction easily was the one that most stuck with me.

I like it because it is a realization about life, with an underlying empathy. What I heard Jackie say in those five words were, “No one gets off easy. We all have our own struggles and trials and hurts. I have mine and you, Dad, have yours. I heard you loud and clear last night, how deep your pain is. I feel for you.”

This is empathy, the finding of a connection with other humans which drives our caring for them.

Empathy feels. Its opposite is an “if you just tried harder” contempt.

Compassion cares. Its opposite is “I don’t care” indifference.

Affinity finds in the other an ally. Its opposite is “I don’t need this” animosity.

Affection forms and then fuels empathy and compassion. Its opposite is antipathy—lack of caring—which inflames hatred, which deepens into prejudice and bigotry and a sense that one is superior to another, which incites narrow-mindedness, unfairness, and separation from those who are different from us.

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This came close to home in the 1990s when my sister, Sue’s, TMJ grew very serious. After surgery on her jaws she could not talk for eight weeks. The surgery did not provide the healing she sought. Her jaw pain has been awful all these years.

Sue has had to pick and choose when she can be with people. She and I are alike; she is super-friendly and loves talking with folks. But the more she talks, the more pain she has, and the more she has to deal with for days, even weeks after the event.

This caused her to become a bit of a loner. She avoided some family functions. And some of us were not always kind in our assessment, criticizing her for going to that thing but not to this one, of using her ailment to her advantage. Giving her the benefit of the doubt was seldom heard by those who had an opinion about her.

It was when I finally came beside Sue that I grew in my empathy for her. The closer we became, the better I heard her, the more I cared about her. Suffering must get personal, or else we will always work to avoid it.

My earliest lesson was my brother, Jim. Visiting him at Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, we kids were exposed to people whom society dubbed “monstrosities.” Our mother told us that they are no different from us, that we are no better than them. Her guidance absolutely formed me.

Suffering the loss of a child did the same. My compassion exploded for all people who suffer sudden, tragic loss. Then, as a pastor, as I ministered to folks in every death situation, I learned that it doesn’t matter how the loss occurred, but that all death stinks and hurts to our core, and we all need to feel for those who suffer this loss.

When I went public with my gender dysphoria, I finally could appreciate what my sister went through, longing to be understood, for people not to judge what they do not know, and not to decide for me how much pain I was in. One pastor, with whom I used to be very close, reacted this way when I told him that I had grown suicidal and truly feared that I would go insane: “Oh, come on. Surely, it isn’t that bad.”

You can bet that my sister never said anything like that. After Julie, she became my biggest ally.

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These twelve days in which I cannot speak, friends are encouraging me with their stories. One woman explained how after serious dental work she was instructed that for six weeks she could not bend over, sneeze, drink through a straw, go under water (they had a pool), had to sleep sitting up, and could not blow her nose. A man told me of his late father-in-law who had suffered a stroke and became speechless. He got a spelling board, where he pointed out letters. Sometimes he got so frustrated trying to spell he would throw the board across the room.

I remember how often my mom would say why she watched soap operas. “When I see their problems, mine don’t look so bad.” Over the years, many people would quote this to me, but too often it was to downplay their situation. I would not let them do it. Their suffering was their suffering and they did not need to lessen it by comparing to someone supposedly suffering worse than them.

Who says they were suffering worse? Suffering differently, perhaps, but worse? Who decides that? Why do we keep score?  Why are we always deciding for others what their situation is? Why are we so stinking judgmental?

The woman’s post-dental surgery situation, the man with the stroke, and being reminded of my sister’s post-surgery silence all help me keep my situation in perspective. For that, I am grateful the folks shared these with me.

The word which best describes people in their falling short of goodness and caring is the word “selfish.” Our inclination is to think of our self first, and when that becomes difficult because of suffering—whether our own or someone else’s—we are prone to avoid  or remove the suffering. That is what breaks up many marriages, strains families, ends loads of friendships, results in some people killing themselves.

I know that the Lord doesn’t like suffering any more than I but, as I like to say, He is the ultimate lemonade-maker out of life’s lemons. Romans 5:3-4: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” While the next verse directly ties this to our trust in Jesus Christ, this is a truth which can be applied anywhere, for anyone: Embrace suffering so as to work good with it.

For the suffering/perseverance/character/hope track to come about, we need to directly deal with our suffering and the suffering of family and friends and community. If we slough it off, we gain nothing. And neither does anyone else gain anything from us.

Being a person is hard. It’s not only hard for me and for you, but it is hard for one hundred percent of us. I long for a world in which all people grasp this.

If we will suffer together, it will happen that we will care for each other. If we will not, the world we have is the one in which we will continue to clash.

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Silence Is Rusty #4

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I am writing soon after Julie and I returned from Sunday worship. It is important that I capture my experience before it is dulled by time.

I wore my pin, in case anyone talked to me. I didn’t need it this time. Entering, I was able to mouth a good morning to the usher as he handed me the bulletin. Exiting, I was able to do the same to the pastor as we shook hands. No one else approached me, and I didn’t see anyone that I know well enough to walk up to them to chat.

As it was the fourth Sunday of the month and Holy Communion was not being served, our order of service was Matins. If you know the service, you might already be onto where I am going with this . . . and seeing the humor.

The service begins:
Pastor: O Lord, open my lips,
People: and my mouth will declare your praise.

And for the first time in my life at the presentation of these words, I just stood there.

And smiled to myself.

Yes, it was weird not to speak with the rest of the congregation. Yes, I wanted to sing out with them in each hymn. And, yes, I mouthed “amen” at every opportunity.

I listened to the choir and the sermon the same as always, but when the congregation spoke and sang I heard something new.

When one is speaking and singing, the other voices are there. Some even stand out. But when one is making noise the sounds of others are largely blended into one big background hum.

I heard a different congregation than I had ever heard in my entire life. One man’s speaking and singing was profoundly beautiful, regularly flowing across the nave and filling me. Another moment, I could concentrate on the female voices, and in another upon the males, and then I could hear the younger ones. All because I was listening and not talking.

While I will be very pleased to resume being vocal in worship, I am pleased to report that the service filled me with the Lord’s grace in Christ just as it does every Sunday. This is the reason we get ourselves into a church building and to sit with our fellow believers. It is to be nourished on the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ—not as much for Him to hear us, but for us to hear Him.

As food for the body strengthens us physically, food for the soul strengthens us spiritually. We need not say a word when the Word made flesh speaks His forgiveness, life, and salvation upon us. We need not say a word to be able to sing praises in our heart for all of His goodness to us.

One more Sunday of this silent treatment faces me. Holy Communion will be offered, so we will be sharing the peace greeting with the folks around our pew. The button will come in handy.

Four days down.

Eight to go.

This is feeling more doable all the time.

Silence Is Rusty #2

 

I knew this not talking business would be a challenge.

It is a huge challenge.

On Day Two, it got downright serious.

Julie had planned to take the day off, just in case I needed her, so she was home all day. Thankfully, physically, I was doing well and didn’t need her for that purpose. The pain in my throat was greatly reduced. If I had permission to go jogging, I could have done so. I made supper—a simple go-to: fried ground beef with corn and mashed potatoes. Mix them together and you have a reliably tasty meal.

What I found yesterday was that I simply wanted to be alone. Why? Because communicating without talking is laborious.

I had installed an app on my phone which speaks the text. It doesn’t work as smoothly as my regular texting app, and the voice speaks very mechanically. Almost always, I had to have it speak a second time so it could be understood. I quickly tired of that and abandoned it.

Mostly, I hand write in a pad. I have to write slowly so that my penmanship is legible. I can type out texts just as quickly, and I’ve done quite a bit of that, but it seems more impersonal to do that with Julie sitting right across from me.

What are humans prone to do when faced with a hiccup, a hurdle, a hitch in the system? Rather than do the work to conquer the problem, we often ditch it. We run from it. We remove it from our life.

It’s way easier to do so. It’s not the smart move, but it is the regular move.

Hence, my desire to be alone.

It is a desire I am going to have to fight with for ten more days because I don’t want to be separated from Julie any more than I already am because I cannot speak.

Two days in.

Two lessons learned.

Ten days to go.