The Right to Remain Silent

Image: From Cat Walk by Mary Stolz and illustrated by Erik Blegvad.


All of my life from family, friends, teachers, classmates, heck, sometimes even from strangers I’ve only just met, I have heard some well-meaning variation of “why are you so quiet, Sarah?” or “why aren’t you talking, Sarah?” Good intentions, or no– I hate this question. It makes me feel anxious and pressured and put on the spot. It’s embarrassing and judgmental, and when I am feeling scrutinized like this, the last thing I want to do is chat. Instead, I want to curl up in a corner and disappear.

I thought maybe they’d all stop asking that question once I became an adult, but nope, I am 44 years old and I literally just heard it again last week (via video chat, no less!) I flushed and flustered, fumbled for words and mumbled something inaudible and inane, but I wish I had responded with something acerbic like, “you talk enough for the both of us.” Or perhaps turn the awkward spotlight back on them and countered with an analytical inquiry: “…and how does that make you feel?”

But…you guessed it. I remained silent.

Sometimes I am quiet just because other people are so loud. Those energies are overwhelming and I tend to retreat in the presence of them. And anyway, I am not good at idle chatter or casual conversation, I don’t even like it, I guess you could say I really resent it. It takes up space better served by silence. And what is wrong with silence, anyway? I am much better at listening and observing than talking, and I am deeply appreciative of the space that a silent moment affords for reflection and awareness–and so when I talk, it is when I have got something to say. And I’m not suggesting that all of everything I’ve got to say is wildly important, or that any of it is. But if I have said it, it must’ve meant it was important to me, important enough to interrupt the silence for.

I know this isn’t the way people are typically wired, but I sure wish that in lieu of commenting impatiently with something like “why are there no words coming out of your mouth right now, Sarah?” They’d instead recall something some silly face I pulled, that made everyone laugh during a tense moment. Or a favorite cake into which I baked so much tenderness that when they later wiped a crumb from their collar, they may have wept without realizing it, and felt inexplicably loved, and touched, and seen. Why do I have to say anything at all? A quiet moment can be full of so many wondrous things. If you’re talking you may miss them.

So just because you don’t hear me yammering away doesn’t mean I’m checked out and not paying attention, that I am mentally not-there, or that I don’t care. I spend a lot of time in my head. Listening, observing. Absorbing, reflecting. And just because I don’t talk about [this, that, or the other] thing does not mean I don’t think about the thing.

This is really just to say, jeez, sometimes I relate to these cats.

6 Comments on The Right to Remain Silent

  1. Maika
    August 14, 2020 at 2:13 am (3 months ago)

    I don’t know who these people are, picking on you for your silence. But it is absolutely not okay. Not when you were wee and not now. You and those cats know what’s best for yourselves. I value your silent company every bit as much as your verbal company. And I cherish the fact that you’re my dearest friend who is perfectly happy to simply share space with me and read together. 🖤

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      August 14, 2020 at 10:13 am (3 months ago)

      Awwww! As I was ruminating on all of this last night, I was thinking of the few people I don’t mind (and even enjoy!) conversing or sharing silence with, and you are at the very top of that list!

      Reply
      • Lauren
        August 14, 2020 at 1:02 pm (3 months ago)

        I can’t relate to this all too well. Perhaps the only thing more irksome has been for someone to tell me to smile.

        Reply
      • Maika
        August 14, 2020 at 1:59 pm (3 months ago)

        The FEELS! It’s completely mutual. I love you, Spooder. 🖤

        Reply
  2. Lauren
    August 14, 2020 at 1:02 pm (3 months ago)

    I can*, that is

    Reply
  3. Melissa Kojima
    August 16, 2020 at 2:47 pm (2 months ago)

    I know exactly how that is. I’ve been called, The Silent Girl. I hate that they think if I’m not talking, I don’t have anything to contribute. I feel you and I agree.

    Reply

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