I chose the silent route. Both of the boys knew that I wasn’t speaking but didn’t really know why, except that Rob asked me how long I would do it for and I shrugged. I felt great about the choice, and I listened to a song by India Arie before I went to sleep where she sings “I see the God in You” and it felt like I was doing the right thing.
This morning when I was waking up to the cold draft in the truck, I remember muttering some words. Maybe like “oh Geez..” but Shane didn’t say anything about it and I just kept moving forward. Mistakes will happen, but it’s about not giving up. I think a vow of silence has to be one of the toughest things in the universe. Especially because it comes with a certain set of problems that I didn’t really think through.
The dumb McDonalds that we were parked at doesn’t allow loitering, so I pointed out that the bridge where I met the guys last year was right up the street, and we went to drive under it. No one was there. But we did find the occupation. It was a bunch of tents set up in a park, and we couldn’t resist.
This is where things got really sticky. The guys decided to live stream. It was a great call, but they both realized as soon as they said it that THEY would have to do all the talking. The thought made them both laugh nervously and point the finger at each other. The live stream itself shows the silliness of it. I kept all of the recordings because it’s so telling. It’s ironic too that we were having major technical difficulties and the stream kept getting interrupted, which is quite symbolic of our communication today. Connection interrupted.
For example. There was this incredibly intellectual guy that I was listening to as he discussed deep social issues with two other guys, and his points were valid and well spoken. I was watching him and trying to keep him on the live stream. I think that having to shut my mouth has made me a much more intent listener. I was so focused on listening to all the conversations around me that I would almost think that my ears would be bleeding by now. At one point he said that my freckles were distracting him, in a nice and sincere way. Then, I lifted my camera to take a picture… It was a knee jerk response to something, but I’m not sure what it was. Nothing had happened, it was at least 5 minutes after the freckle comment. But when I lifted the camera, he made a comment about it being film, and I spoke! I explained that it was digital and as soon as I had spoken a few sentances, I snapped my mouth shut and looked around. Shane and Rob were deep in conversation with a little girl that was in town from the occupation in Cleveland. They hadn’t noticed. “Okay Shay, just keep going. Pick up where you left off, like this morning,” I told myself. But it was too late. This man, his name is Matthew, and when I mentioned that it was digital, he asked me to take a black and white photo of him and jack the contrast like Ansel Adams. He expected a response, and I couldn’t explain that changing the image and jacking the contrast happens on the computer. I was instantly feeling trapped and desperate. I whirled around hoping that Shane would rescue me, but he didn’t. He just stared at me. I even hit him in the stomach with the back of my hand as if to say “hey! That’s your cue! Explain to this man that I can’t talk to him!” but he just looked at me, confused. He looked straight into my eyes and I tried to communicate with him telepathically but he was so lost… he just stared back. Meanwhile, Matthew is trying to figure out what he did wrong, apologizing, and Rob is scrambling for something, I’m not sure what. I just stood there, with my hand over my mouth, helpless. Finally, the boy who was with the girl from Cleveland spoke up. “She took a vow of silence.”
I’m not sure, but he must have heard the boys mention that on the live stream, or they explained it to him when my head was buried in the computer. I smiled at him and made grateful gestures. Meanwhile, Matthew was distressed because he had thought it was something else, but I’m not sure what. Upon finding out that it was a vow of silence, I think he was even more confused and thought it was semi-ridiculous. I had to just stare at the ground and try to go to my happy place, which is incredibly hard for me to get to these days. I failed miserably and had a feeling of utter embarrassment and humiliation digging a grave into the pit of my stomach.
While I stood there jumping into my own psychological despair, everyone else standing in our small circle had moved on to talking about contact information and technology. I laughed at Matthew’s horrible handwriting and we had a joke, but the air was thick with misunderstanding, to the point that I’m pretty sure I could feel it on my skin. I think my mind was throwing up on itself.
A few minutes later, I tapped Shane on the arm and I nodded toward the truck. I needed to go away for a moment. I realized that Matthew had also walked back to his jeep, which was of course parked in front of ours, but I didn’t care. I figured he was so full of awkward, like me, that he wouldn’t talk to us anyway. I had been carrying a notebook, and when we got to the truck, Shane took one look at me and knew that something was wrong with me on the inside. He asked, and so I wrote on the notebook. “No one understands. Not even you.”
I wrote “I accidently spoke” on the notebook, but by the time I had the words written, Matthew was walking up to the truck. Of course he was. I flipped the notebook over and directed my attention at the man. He had changed his shirt, because Indy had gotten muddy paw prints on his white sweater. Damn dog. He walked up to our truck, and said “So this is what you guys do, huh? You just roll…” he was looking down the side of the truck at Jethro, and I climbed up inside the cab to sit on the passenger seat with the door open. It was my “crawl in a hole” behavior coming out again. But this time I was hiding from my embarrassment. He looked at Shane and continued. “Man, how come I can’t do that? How come I can’t just roll?” He said the question with some laughter. “Maybe I’ll meet up with you guys on the road somewhere, you know? Maybe Oregon.”
I shot my hands up in the air and smiled, to let him know that I LOVE Oregon. Shane was smiling and kind of chuckling in the way we always does when people say things like that. There was a pause, and Matthew looked off to his right, lost in his thoughts for a moment. When he looked back at Shane he asked a deeper question. “Am I so bonded to the establishment… that I can’t just roll?” He was dead serious. Shane just shrugged, and the way that Matthew had asked the question, I don’t think he realized that he was serious and that the question wasn’t rhetorical. Matthew looked straight into my eyes and I understood what he was asking. I nodded solemnly. His head moved backwards while his eyes were locked on mine, and I knew that the understanding was a small blow to his pride. He lowered his gaze for a moment, and began to nod slowly. Shane started to say something comforting, I think along the lines of “hey we all are to some degree…” but Matthew put his hand up to wave him off.
“Nope, she said it. She said yes, so… she’s right.”
This time I lowered my eyes. What is it with this? What was that? What kind of weird understanding did we just have? Matthew explained.
“A few years ago, my sister died in a car accident… She left kids behind when she died. Their dad is a dead beat, you know. He’s not around much. And I mean, I’ve got a daughter too, in North Dakota. But when my sister died, I had all this stuff going on here, I was trying to make it, be successful. Now, since everything has happened here lately…. (he had mentioned earlier that he had lost his job, and that he was living out of that jeep, with everything he owned inside) now I’m just thinking, those kids needed me. How selfish could I be?”
He let out a deep sigh as he gazed at the afternoon sun, and the weight of his words fell on my heart like a brick falls on pillow. I caught it well, but it was heavy.
The words hung in the air for a moment. As I sat in the passenger seat, with my head hanging low from the impact of the brick, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I might not be able to say anything, but I can move…
It’s funny, but earlier this morning, while we stood on the sidewalk with Joan, a man carrying two or three bags, and wearing two or three jackets walked by the intersection where our trucks were parked. Shane and I must have noticed him at the same time, because he said “hey dude, how’s it going?” The man answered and said pretty good, how were we? And Shane said we were fine, and Happy Thanksgiving. The man smiled and gave us a wave as he crossed the street, and Shane only hesitated for a split second before saying “Hey, do you need anything man?” and the guy looked down at his bags with a smile, shook his head and answered… “a house.”
Later, Shane had talked to me about it in the truck, and asked me if there was something else he should have said or done. I had asked myself the same question as the man’s answer had hung in the air between the four of us on the sidewalk, before Joan muttered “and that says it all right there.” The only answer I had gotten from the recesses of my mind was the mental picture of Shane running up the block after the man, but I wasn’t sure why. Until he asked me right then in the truck. Suddenly it was clear. I smiled at Shane as I threw my arms around myself in a big, long hug. I closed my eyes and I could feel Shane’s epiphany from across the center console. “Damn it! I knew that too! I should have… damn.”
So while Matthew’s words were hanging in the air in the same manner, I climbed up out of the passenger seat and wrapped my arms around him. Out of respect for Shane, I think, he only used one arm to hug me back, but I didn’t let go. I put everything I felt in my heart into that hug. It was Love.
“She isn’t talking, but she’s saying everything right now…” Matthew said to Shane. I smiled to myself before I let go and resumed my spot in the truck. When I looked back up, Matthews eyes were closed and his eyebrow was furrowed as he turned his face away from us for a moment. He blinked a few times and said, “You know, maybe it’s not too late.”
Shane nodded and said quietly, “Yeah dude, it’s not. You can still do it.”
Matthew blinked a few more times and nodded. He pursed his lips together and bowed his head for a moment. Don’t do it, I thought. I can’t see you cry Matthew.
He lifted his head like an answer to my prayers, blinked back the red and the moisture and smiled. He nodded and stuck his hand out to Shane. “Thank You guys. Find me on Facebook. I’m so glad I came out here and met you. It’s been good, let’s continue this.” Shane shook his hand and he walked to his jeep.
I realized when Shane turned to face me that he had a moisture in his eyes and a quivering lip. What just happened? What was that?
After a few moments, Shane asked to see what I had written on the notebook. He asked me who I had accidently spoken too. I pointed at Matthew’s jeep. He smiled. “It’s okay. Not a big deal. Is that why you said that no one understands? Because we don’t know why?”
I knew as I looked into his eyes that I was supposed to do what I probably should have done last night. I let him read my journal, so that he would understand why I’m doing this. I’m not sure what that will mean in the long run, but I knew as it happened that it was exactly what we were supposed to do…. Share.
Later, after a few more strange encounters in which people were confused by my silence, and we almost duplicated the Matthew misunderstanding with a man named Hippie, I was frustrated and ready to give up. Especially after Hippie made the SAME apologetic comment that Matthew had made during all the confusion. “I meant no disrespect.” That comment stung, because I realized that my silence makes people think that they have offended me, when that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Or the situation with Nicole on the sidewalk. I could tell that she SO wanted to talk to me, but I had to just sit… in silence. I tried to give her a flower, but that was the best I could do. Eventually I was so hurt by the whole thing, and my inability to communicate the love in my heart, that I went inside the truck and hid from everyone… again.
We drove to the park at sunset, and Shane was teasing me for my sign language. I wrote on the notebook… “this blows.” I wanted him to know that I was in pain. I wrote a few more sentences. “I feel like I’m hurting people, or excluding them. Like I can’t show them Love.”
Shane said No. “You showed more Love to Matthew in that hug than we ever could have said with words. I don’t know who said it, but I remember someone told me once that ‘We know how to Love, we just mess it up all the time with words.’”
He smiled at me and I knew he was right. That moment with Matthew was like Redemption. It was an affirmation. There might be some confusion, but it’s worth it when we sort it out. I’m reminding myself that all fasts are complicated the first time. We have to learn to master certain aspects of life without whatever it is we are sacrificing, and then things get easier. As I felt my understanding with Shane in the soft blue light of the dashboard, I had a thought. I remembered something….
This morning, we had a weird thing happen. We had just parked on the side of the street, and Rob was standing next to my window smoking a cigarette, like he usually does. A tall black man walked toward to the truck and looked at Rob, and then at me. He made a signal with his hands and cautiously held out his arm. There was a folded piece of paper in between his fingers, and as Rob reached out to take it, he withdrew his hand. He glanced at Rob and shook his head just once. He looked back at me and extended his hand in my direction. I took the paper from the man and opened it.
He took a step toward me and ran his finger down each of the four pages full of blue ink that scratched out a letter. He nodded and took a few steps back away from the truck. I began reading the story of this tall man, whose letter told me that he was a full deaf/mute, and that he knows 5 different types of sign language. The letter talks about his family and his situation, and ends by asking for any kind of ‘donation’ whether it’s five pennies or 5 dollars. We gave the man 5 dollars and a whole pumpkin pie, and I wondered to myself at the irony of being approached by a mute on the first day of my silence. The isolation that I’ve felt after just one day, I can’t imagine that feeling, and the inability to communicate with most people, for the entirety of my life.
Thinking about this now, I realize the answer to some of my complications today. I wrote a little letter on a piece of paper, in black sharpie marker. I just introduce myself and explain that I’m fasting from speech. I even explain that I might mess up and accidently say something, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to quit. And I say that I hope it’s not too confusing, but that if nothing else, I want the reader to know that I’m so glad we met. And Much LOVE.
I will carry that letter around with me everywhere, so that I don’t have to rely on Shane and Rob to do my explaining for me. Pretty awesome how God brings everything full circle like that, isn’t it? He’s amazing.