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Silent Wednesday
By LuLu Johnson

When the grocery cart caught the back of my heel, I didn’t say anything. And when the lady said, “I’m sorry” in a tone that voided her words, I held my tongue. She was being sarcastic, paying me back for cutting in line. I didn’t think I had, but I also didn’t argue my innocence. I couldn’t. It was a Wednesday.

I don’t talk on Wednesdays.

Six weeks ago, I took a vow of silence. Just one day a week, but for fifty-two in a row. I had the idea over a year ago, but I didn’t commit to it then. It seemed so utterly monk-ish, too strange and cerebral.

I also thought I couldn’t handle it. And back then, I might not have had the discipline. But for quite some time, I’ve had the desire. Two desires, actually. The desire to think more before I speak, and the desire to speak less.

It started three years ago when I’d moved back to the States after living for two years in Germany. When I got back, for a few short weeks, I had to think before I spoke. My English had gotten that rusty. Not only was I not used to forming sentences in my mother tongue, I also wasn’t used to being around native speakers and how darn fast we talk. So for that precious spell, my mouth had jet lag. There was an actual pause – call it a space for thought – between the time the other person’s sentence ended and mine began. It was a new thing; that hitch in my timing.

I was amazed at how much I filtered out. The best part was, what got left behind were usually rude remarks. While my jet-lagged mouth took its minute to sort things through, my mind had a chance to speak up. More than a few times, it told me, “Don’t say that. It’ll hurt feelings.” The other amazing part was, I listened. I quit flinging out zingers, trading barbs, one-upping cut downs. In short, I was nicer than normal. If I had a graph, I could demonstrate how the level of my sarcasm dropped fifty-seven points to an all-time low during that enchanted jet-lag phase.

Then it went away.

I probably wouldn’t have given my appetite for talk another thought, if I hadn’t gone to visit my grandmother last summer before she died. At ninety-seven, she held her own during most of my surprise visit. She did have a little trouble keeping track of who I was, but I didn’t mind. Actually, one of my favorite chats with her, the one that changed me, happened when she took me to be my sister.

I’d wheeled her out on a patio, away from her moaning roommate and into fresh air. While we watched birds and butterflies behind a pink hibiscus, she took my hand and held it. Eyes on the blue sky, she said, “I hope your mother is enjoying LuLu’s visit.”

“I’m sure she is,” I said, following her misdirection, willing to play my sister for a minute.

“That girl,” my grandmother said to me about me, “that girl is a chatter box.” (Note how, even in her weakened state, she managed such emphasis on the chatter bit.)

“She sure is!” I shouted and laughed.

Truth be told, I may have laughed, but my feelings were hurt. No one likes to hear something negative about themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, or if it’s said by a ninety-seven year old woman wheeling up death’s door ramp. None of that makes a painful truth less painful, or less true. My grandmother was right. I am a chatter box, a glutton for talk.

Lately it’s occurred to me that it might be a nervous habit. Dead air makes me itchy. Other times I think it’s because I’m a girl born and raised in the South. Somewhere during my formative years, someone wrote into my Book of Rules that it’s a girl’s job to keep the talk-ball rolling. Guys sit and listen. Maybe they don’t always listen, but they do sit. At least for me, that’s usually how it is.

Gary Chapman writes about this phenomenon in his book, The Five Love Languages, when he describes Babblers and Dead Seas. Babblers talk, Dead Seas listen, and the two types usually hook up. Chapman explains that Dead Seas keep everything in; they’re fine not talking. On the other hand, Babblers feel compelled to yack about every vague and fleeting impression gained through their senses. As Chapman puts it, Babblers “have no reservoir.” Reading that phrase in the book was like looking in a mirror. I’m a Babbler. I have no reservoir.

That’s part of what my Silent Wednesday vow is about. It’s about digging a space inside myself to hold thoughts and words that don’t need to come rushing out. Each Silent Wednesday is my time to deepen myself, in the reservoir way, and in others.

It’s only been six weeks, but my word-diet is already working. I find I listen better, even if it’s Thursday. I’m quicker to catch myself in the middle of my running on. And I’m less verbally impulsive.

Just ask that lady in the grocery store. After crashing her cart into my heel, she got no snide comment out of me. And while she stood there ready to spar, I walked away, silently creating space in my reservoir.

Lu Lu Johnston Bio:

“When not watching what she says, LuLu Johnson lives freely in Rabun County, Georgia. Before that she lived in Berlin, Atlanta, Orlando, and San Antonio. She earned her MFA in Poetry from Georgia State University, and she has undergraduate degrees in English and art history. Her poems have been published in Prairie Schooner, Flyway, and Atlanta Review under her given name, Heather Leigh. She won the 2007 Study Abroad Prize in Nonfiction awarded by the University of New Orleans, and the essay was published in The Pinch. She has attended many writers’ conferences including a stay at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sandhills where she won first place in fiction. She writes art reviews for The Clayton Tribune, and she operates Scratch Paper Press, a company that produces and sells books on local attractions and businesses of interest. Take a look at ScratchPaperPress.com. She kept her vow of Silent Wednesday for two and a half years, and she’s looking forward to taking it up again, once life quiets down a bit.”

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COMMENT (1) | humour, self improvement
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Comments

One Response to “Silent Wednesday”

  1. Sharon Carmichael
    June 17th, 2011 @ 6:52 am

    Thank you, Lulu, for sharing this. Its funny what we learn about ourselves when we’re ready to hear it. This morning, I needed to hear this about myself. Today I will listen more and talk less.

    Sincerely,
    Sharon Carmichael

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