Deep in the Quiet Wood
Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.
– James Weldon Johnson
Some years ago I developed a vocal cord condition that required one week of immediate and sustained silence. It wasn’t a disaster, but it did not go well. I worked at an office then, full of understanding colleagues who would be forgiven for finding it strange to have my otherwise loquacious self silently stalking the halls. I retreated to my office and eventually just stayed home.
It wasn’t much better with the kids – much younger then – who slowly retreated from me as if from a silent stranger. And not because of their disinterest but because I failed to cover that awkward ground between us with creative ways to interact. One need not speak to thrash one’s children at “Old Maid”!
Today I am having surgery on my vocal cords for an unrelated matter and, though it is minor and a quick recovery is expected, I will again be under “forced” silence, at least for a few days.
I feel good and mostly relaxed about the coming respite from speech. I have lots of papers to grade and other work to fill my days. There’s plenty of fence to paint (still!) and other “to-dos” for which speaking is unnecessary.
But, like the invitation in the poem above, I don’t just want to take in “the din of life” because I am “bowed down in heart” by my lack of speech. I want to listen.
And in listening I want to discover if I have learned from prior experience to reach for connection by other means. Perhaps I will text questions to my daughters and simply take in their responses. Perhaps I will just do as I’m told…I mean asked…when requested to chop or clean or be of help. Perhaps I will sit outside and hear the fall-ness of fall, just as it is, in this place I call my home.
There are many sounds on the path to wholeness. I wonder if I will hear them?
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.