Finding My Self in Silence by La Vonda R. Staples
I had to decide what kind of person I was going to be. How was I going to spend whatever time I have left in this life? Whether it was a minute or by some stroke of luck, another five decades. I had to make a decision regarding the person I wanted to see when I looked in the mirror. I don’t know if I set anything in stone or even write on the pavement in chalk regarding a decision. The examination of life after life and living during life is quite enough at this time.
I’m a very resilient person. I fall down. I get back up. I learn lessons and sometimes I have to have re-fresher courses in foundational knowledge. You know, stuff I should have just known as if it was embossed upon the inside of my eyelids. Every time I have put faith or hope as the guiding light of my decisions I’m opening the door for pleasant surprise or a tutorial lesson in basic logic. I’ve heard many people say that they only have to learn a lesson once. I’m just not one of those people. It would be most accurate to say that I’ve had to learn from various angles. Through all of this I can say that the best part of me is that I’ve never lost sight of what I wanted. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was and still is that I have to decide, over and over again, what it actually is that I want. I’ve refused to give up when I have divorced and have been divorced. I’ve refused to give up when I have had problems with family. I’ve had problems with my children and I don’t know why but I always believe that things will work out. I guess it helps that I don’t believe in absolute bad or continuous good.
I know a little lady named Miss Pam. She’s retired. She has some health problems. Miss Pam isn’t one of those Bible-thumping ladies who confess to nothing but a Christian life. Miss Pam is a woman who has truly lived a life. She’s willing to tell me (and others) about her mistakes. She opens up her library to me and I’m made so much more ready, more armed, more on guard because of her largesse. She’s lived through more adversity and therefore known more triumphs. I respect her age. I respect her. I admire the hell out of her. She came along when I needed to be mothered so very badly.
One of the greatest lessons she’s currently trying to beat into my head is for me to stop attempting to please other people. I know that she’s right. I know that pleasing other people is a detriment and leads to hurt, anger and confusion. I gotta tell you something. Miss Pam’s presence in my life proves that God knows what we need and He gives it when it is most vital. When the time is most right. I was ready. She arrived. I cannot remember what it was like to be without her. I wasn’t ready for anything that she does – I was ready for the knowledge she was prepared to bring. I had to admit that I had always lived my life counter to the needs of others. If it pleased me then I would please you. When I hit a wall, it was always the other person’s fault. I would never admit to myself, “now you shoulda known from the jump…” I used my optimism as an excuse to avoid success.
It’s strange to say that you have to learn how to do something that you’ll never be able to perfect. That’s the real secret if there is one. I’ve read so many self-help books. I’ve listened to lectures and watched more than my share of enlightened folks seated on Oprah’s stage. But what I know to be sure, at this moment, is that the process can never be done. Over and over, I’ve heard people claim to have a secret, some secrets, and the secrets. What if you can’t travel to India and sit silently next to a yogi for sixty days? What if you don’t even have the resources or the funds to sit too long in your own living room? What if you can’t find yourself by seeing other people? And mind you, for the most part, I don’t think all of these enlightened people are discovering any secrets. I think they just went and saw some folks who were worse off and the happiness was really a sense of relief that they weren’t the ones living in the mud of Africa or Asia.
That brings up another question. Why is it that everyone has to find themselves in a culture of poverty? Why are we always told to be glad that we’re not a starving Armenian, Biafran, African, or any other brown people who have to suffer through life on pennies a day? Why is the worst possible economic reality always seen as hell on Earth? I’ve met some of these people. They generally don’t get made fun of for being smart or speaking proper English. Their fathers are married to their mothers. Their wealthy relatives really don’t mind helping with educational fees. And what’s more? They are generally very resourceful people who have been developed to have very strong comprehension skills. So, those “poor” people are generally alright with me because people who aren’t resourceful and ‘quick’ irritate the hell out of me.
Instead of buying the plane ticket to see those poor people why not just sit alone and enjoy your own silence? I did it. I examined so many situations in my life and very rarely did I conclude with victimhood. Each time, over and over, I had to accept blame because I was too afraid to go out and try something new, an independent path, and therefore avoid the troubles which came from husbands, jobs, and just people in general. I had to take myself apart. I had to bisect, dissect, and basically become my own pathologist. I autopsied myself. I had no other choice since I had no money for plane tickets, hotel rooms, or any exotic ‘aha’ moments. I had to find myself where I stood.
And the only thing I can give you as a result or conclusion is this: there is no point of being finished as I am always a work in progress. Miss Pam and my grandmother are women who are very comfortable with themselves. Both of them have said to me, “I’m alright. Just me and Jesus.” My grandmother and Miss Pam actually believe that Jesus keeps them company. Neither one of them are delusional, crazy, nothing like that at all. They are so adamant that I wonder how come Jesus doesn’t come and keep me company too. Does He know my address? Why doesn’t He just ask God for it? Why is it that I’m so worried about everything and the old ladies aren’t? They spend so much time alone and sometimes they don’t answer their calls and sometimes they don’t answer the door. I know they want my company, don’t they? They get a little angry when I don’t come over for a little while.
They don’t mind being alone because their happiness is not dependent on anything found in this world. There’s something else for them. And that something else is not exclusive to Christianity. I’ve met Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and atheists who have arrived at this same point. I’ve never met an agnostic who was just fine but I’ll talk about that another time. Must have something to do with the fact that I only know three agnostics. I just need to get out more.
I’ve spent a lot of time, as I said before, examining myself. I complained incessantly. I never did anything to resolve my own issues. I looked for a solution from out of the sky. I looked for solutions which wouldn’t resolve anything. I seemed to be in love with gaining closure. Here’s something I learned: what we believe to be closure isn’t really closure. What we think of as closure is just putting another sick person on the spot and either returning anger that they gave to you or taking them to the same state of misery the victim inhabits. That’s not the kind of closure I need or want. Today I think it’s more important to find out how to not be in a situation where I’m due an apology or seek this mythical closure. If you take the most extreme circumstance and think about it. If, God forbid, someone takes the life of your sweet child. The murderer is convicted and gets the death penalty. Aren’t your arms still empty? Do you stop crying at night? No. You don’t. You don’t go out and have a party because the murderer is dead either. If you do, you’re one sick bastard. No 21st century PC talk about it. You’re sick if you rejoice at the death of another person. Forgive me; I’ve gone on a tangent. I do that from time to time.
Back on subject now. I was talking about Miss Pam and my grandma. I was avoiding some things and mulling over other things. I wanted to tell you and I want to tell you some magnificent revelation. I don’t have any. The truth really isn’t that shiny, sexy, and provides very little titillation.
Solitude. This word can be terrible or beautiful. It is a sword with a razor sharp dual blade. People in jail go insane from too much time in solitary confinement. People in nursing homes seem to die quicker when visitors stop calling. Solitude can be the very place where you stop listening to the words of your mother, your father, your siblings, your spouse, and your demons. Solitude is where you begin to learn how to listen to your angels. I heard the sound so faintly at first that I almost missed it. I leaned my head closer to nothing. There it was again. But here’s where solitude exacts its heavy toll. You have to forego transitory bliss to truly enjoy your own silence. People would ask me out. There would be parties. There would be occasions but I wasn’t right by myself so how could I be right around anyone else? I recognized this and I ceased blaming it on anything other than my own inability to see what was most right and what was most wrong.
I could blame it on my childhood. And that would be true. Then the next question would come: at what point am I my own person and separate from the sins, ignorance, and inconsistencies of other people? Furthermore, if I had learned something so great why wasn’t I preparing myself to share this with other people? That’s what we’re here for isn’t it? To be the instruments of God. God doesn’t come, because He made us. At least that’s what my grandfather always said. I think he’s right. I had been greatly abused and I have survived most beautifully. I’m supposed to help some other child, woman, elder, man, boy, human through this sad and weary land. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do but this is what I’m supposed to do with this time I have left. I believe that just as surely as my grandma and Miss Pam believe Jesus sits in the chair and keeps company with them.
Can you stand the sound of your own silence? I couldn’t. I had to always have music playing, a television, people, a dog, a cat, a something. It was as if the sound was a roar pounding against my brain. I just couldn’t seem to find peace when I was completely and utterly alone. It seemed that I had a never-ending craving for other people. I used to drink and call people or email people. These conversations made no sense at all. Because, when I came back to myself I was embarrassed and more convinced that I could never fit in with normal people. I thought I was always going to have a need for the presence of another person. I’m glad, on that occasion, to be wrong.
You see I found out the difference between being alone and lonely. I found out there’s an insecurity inherent with the need for other people. I’m not talking about anything which goes against the human needs for love and companionship. I’m speaking on when that need drives you to people, places, and things which steal your humanity, scar your vision, and keep your mind inundated with noise. The noise of compliments which you don’t deserve. The sights of people performing, fake, not being themselves. And the inhumanity which allows us to posture and “front” – presenting an image of self so far from who we really are that it is actually detrimental to the viewer. I made myself appear larger than life because on the inside I was just a small, scared, lonely little girl. I wanted to be loved but I really didn’t have any idea what love is. Where would I have gained that knowledge, after all?
Getting used to silence isn’t what I’m talking about either but it’s a first step. I had to get used to no sound at all. I had to get used to hearing my own breath, steps on the floor, and the sight of my true face in the mirror. I was so very put on that I didn’t know how to take it all off. So I began, one thing at a time. I took off the hair. I took off the make-up. I took off everything which would allow me to think, even for an instant, that I was anything other than who I was.
I’m not denying any wrong. I’m not professing to have found any great truths. I’m saying something very simply. I found my self in silence. I accepted myself when I surgically removed myself from everything that I had been told was good. I did more than flip the script I went off of it. I won’t ever return. I can look at great sadness at the examples of others. I have friends who proudly profess, “I don’t need no damn body.” But every time I turn around they’ve picked up someone they don’t want. Doing something they don’t want to do. And they are the targets of anger, hurt feelings, rage, humiliation and desertion. From watching my closest friends I’ve learned that I can’t go and interrupt someone else’s world to fill my needs. That is abuse and exploitation. No. I can’t use another person’s heart, not ever again, to be the music which fills my lonely hours.
I revel in my own silence. It is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I cherish it and look forward to it. I’ve accepted that I came here alone and nothing I accumulate on this Earth is going with me. I want to cultivate the love of my children and maybe one day another male companion will sit across the table from me. But if he doesn’t. And if my children leave me lonely. I hope I come to the same beliefs of Miss Pam and my grandma. They both have had to make peace with children who no longer come around. They both have had to contend with days spent not working, not moving, and with pain that will not stop. They have had to create a life which is in accordance with a higher power and not subject to the whims of their children. I hope I get there. I hope God gives me enough time to believe as they do so my kids will think I’ve gone crazy, too.