Things Not Said

“Hundreds of parents walking past this spot and not one of them asking her what’s wrong. Which means, they already know and it’s something they don’t talk about.”
–Doctor Who, The Beast Below

I’ve been re-reading most of my blog entries from 2011 as I place them into the layout for my 2011 One Cobble book. My memories do not match up to the words I wrote. Oh, sometimes they do. But much of the time my memory of an event, or a month, is defined by a story I do not tell on my blog. The things I don’t tell could fill a matching volume to the 400 page tome of last year’s blog entries. This leaves me pondering the difference between secret and private. In general I believe secrets to be toxic. They poison everyone who is inside them and create a barrier to everyone who is not. I’m not talking about surprises; that short span of time where you don’t tell something because there is a planned revelation in the future. Those can be marvelous. But never-tell-anyone secrets are poisonous. Yet we obviously should not spill every detail of our lives to every person we meet. Most of our life details are irrelevant to any given situation or person. Thus secrets dwell in the realm of relevance and silence.

I recently spent some time with friends. It was a wonderful evening full of conversation and laughter. However I did notice my silences. There were times when the topic of conversation was something with which I have copious experience and many stories to tell, for example: childbirth and infant care. Yet I silently listened instead of speaking. In this case my silence was driven by my internal landscape rather than a need to hide or conceal. I just didn’t feel like delving into that particular memory cabinet at that particular hour. Trying to figure out why I wanted to leave that cabinet closed is a matter for introspection. Yet someone who knows me and was paying attention to my silences could probably infer quite a lot from the shapes of the things I did not say. In conversations I pay attention to things not said. Things not said can speak volumes about the undercurrents of a person’s mind. I love it when fictional characters are written in such a way that they have these huge emotional undercurrents that change the shape of every word and action. Then they’re like real people.

“It’s often said that negative space is far more important than the stuff that’s in it. For the most part this is true. Space calls attention to content.”
–from Design Elements a Graphic Design Manual by Timothy Samara

The same is true of silence. What a person does not say defines her just as much as what she does.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”

Of course, there are times when we should stay silent. Silence can be a kindness. My children do not need to hear the litany of my frustrations every time they make a mistake. Often my anger has less to do with the person it is focused on and more to do with a myriad of other circumstances. Keeping silence lets me sort my thoughts and figure out which ones are lingering and which are momentary. Most anger and frustration is irrelevant in a very short span of time. Other times I stay silent because the thing I need to say is important. I know I need to say it exactly right, but then the silence grows and time marches onward. Sometimes imperfect words are better than the absence of words.

“There’s this space between us, that keeps filling up with all the things we aren’t saying to each other.”
–from Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Things that are important and relevant, but are not said, become secrets. Once something is secret, revealing it becomes a fearful step. When you include someone into a secret they must come to terms with what you share. I once watched a friend as he spent a weekend informing people that he had a terminal illness. He had been suffering from it for some time, but was ready to make it public information. I watched people react to his news. I watched him find the courage to tell the story again and again even though he knew that his story would make his friends grieve. Some stories require a reaction. Sometimes withholding those stories is a kindness even though it creates a barrier of secrecy.

Silence seems so much easier sometimes, and maybe just a little bit kinder to people around me who seem shaken when I reveal even a tiny bit of my story.
–from The Longing to be All of Me by Theressa Schroeder

But is it kindness or is it discomfort? We all desire to protect those we love, sometimes we do that by withholding hard information. Thus we can rob each other of the chance to cry together and grow.

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
–from The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

Most of the time silences do not indicate soul wrenching secrets. Most of the time it is fatigue, or a story which is not mine to share. Much of what I did not say on my blog had to do with concerns about my children, friends, relatives, or neighbors. Their stories are not mine to tell and while important to us, they aren’t particularly relevant to anyone else: private, but not secret. The silence from last fall which does loom large were my efforts to understand anxiety and panic attacks. Somehow a mix of chemistry and thought patterns had me falling into pits of fear and anxiety. I spent a lot of time filling in the pits, figuring out how they got there, and then creating new pathways in my thoughts. It is a work that has only begun. I don’t speak of it much because I don’t want to worry those who love me, because I’m afraid that it demonstrates weakness, because I sometimes think I’m making a big deal out of nothing, because I don’t want my anxiety to cause grief or fear for those I love, because the scariest thing I’ve learned is that I can not clearly assess the health of my own thought patterns while living inside them. But I can begin to draw a map by looking back and seeing the things I did not say. Then when I find a big dark space where I tend not to travel, I know where to shine a light.

Yesterday I spoke of working on this entry and called it a collage of words. To make it a lovely bordered collage, I should have a perfect quotation to go here and a final thought to pull everything together. Instead what I have is pieces, some of which slop over the edges of the canvas. Tomorrow I may wish I’d arranged them differently. For now, the collage is done.