Silences of all kinds are difficult for me to handle. This is probably why I’ve been described in the past as loquacious, to put it kindly… jabbermouthed, to be more accurate.
Take this story as an example. At work, the contract drawn up for me was not, in the strictest sense, politically correct. That is to say, that my boss had to jump through several bureaucratic hoops, bells and whistles, to keep me on board. My presence in the office, then, is best described as a phantasm. People see me drift in and out, but they don’t know who I am, or why I linger around her office.
I was told to keep a low profile, answer questions evasively, and all would be ok.
One day, while I was working with my boss, a co-worker jumped into her office and shuttled us into the conference room. Apparently, it’s the big boss’s birthday, and we were all going to surprise him.
Immediately, I saw panic flit across my supervisor’s face. Before we walked into the room, she whispered to me,
“Just say you’re an intern”
Silently, I dismissed her concern. Surely, there was no way it could be as serious as she was making it out to be. But as soon as I walked in, people were peppering me with questions.
Who are you? Who do you work with? Intern??…You seem like you’ve been here longer than 3 months. What projects are you working on?
I answered as best I could, and whenever I got stuck, my boss was there to bail me out. It was a glimpse of how sensitive my employment status was in this highly politicized office.
Anyways, I felt I handled it well enough. I did make a mental note to keep an extremely low profile from there on out.
Suddenly, the big boss walked into the room and everyone screamed, “SURPRISE!!!”
The boss smiled and said, “Wow! What a big surprise!”
And then there was silence, the horrible wrenching sort of silence. It was a case of everyone understanding that the big boss was too high-level for most of the people in the room to address him directly, and it seemed for the moment, that the big boss had nothing to say.
People started looking down at the ground…I know they felt it too.
That’s when I chimed in with, “Perhaps we should sing the song!”
The big boss looked at me…in fact, everyone in the room was looking at me. The only one who didn’t was my boss who was inching away from me. I bet she was thinking, plausible deniability…plausible deniability.
Before the big boss could ask me who the hell I was, I started it off… “Happy Birthday to you…Happy birthday to you…”
People didn’t know what to do, so they sang along.
There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Joseph. He was Mary’s husband. In fact, it isn’t so much a story as it is a mention, and here it is:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
That’s about it as far as Joseph is concerned. And yet…
Has a man’s character ever been more revealed in so little words? A fitting tribute to Joseph, I feel.
I try to imagine myself as Joseph. The woman I love comes to me to tell me that she’s pregnant, and it’s not mine. What sort of names, catcalls, vitriol would escape my mouth, fueled largely by the love I felt, the love that’s been tattered by her indiscretion?
I’d think about the man she lay with, and it would be too much for me to handle. His hands all over her, HIS breath, and not mine, on her neck. The thought would either break me or move me to blind rage.
I’d want to throw a stone, and wasn’t it within Joseph’s right at the time to do so? In fact, Mary would have been pelted with many stones, ending her life and the life inside her.
Of course, in our modern times, this sort of thing happens all the time. No, we don’t stone people for adultery (unless you live in Iran) but instead, we’ve evolved in such a way to protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt. In other words, we live in a perpetual pre-nuptial agreement.
The wisest marriage counselors of our day peddle a form of love that would include an expiration date. At a certain point, they claim, love runs out and it becomes more about compatibility, partnership, communication and well defined boundaries.
This is not incorrect…it’s wisdom that’s been refined by centuries of broken hearts and relationships plagued by lies.
Love conditionally and protect yourself at all times –This is the mantra at the heart of our 50% divorce rate.
So it’s with a sense of unfamiliarity and modern-day cynicism that I read about Joseph today.
What sort of love fails to press its rights? Where were the accusations, the wringing of hands and the wild hair-pulling that roils inside me when I put myself in Joseph’s shoes?
In our day, Joseph is a whipped fool. People would argue that a man this weak is a sucker, and he deserves a sucker’s fate.
I ask myself, would it have been any different back then? I think not.
He remained silent because to do otherwise would mean the end of her life. So he kept his mouth shut.
He remained silent because he loved her, simple as that.
Silence is hardest when I have so much to say. To throw the logic of words at this, or that, is about as pointless as grabbing water with a fist, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to try.
But here, the lesson of silence is both the most bitter and nourishing pill for me to swallow. Instead of filling the void with “SURPRISE!”, I’ll have to discipline stillness into my vocabulary, and let the surprise find its way to me.
Secular and religious people alike have heard—and learned from—1 Corinthians 13, so much so that it’s become cliché. That is regrettable:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Joseph would have agreed, but I would follow it with an addendum:
Love is silent and knows when to shut the hell up.
Somehow, I don’t think that made the final cut.