He’s through with talking

The other day I said to Pam, “You know, I’ve said enough. I’m just going to be quiet from now on.” She looked at me like, “Huh?”

“I’ve been talking for a lot of years; I don’t really have much more to say,” I said. “I’ll nod my head now and then if we need to communicate.”

Somebody figured out that the average man speaks 6,000 words a day. Being a shy farmer who doesn’t get out much, let’s say I do 3,000. Not counting a couple years of gibberish at the beginning and a few bad nights since, that’s over 59 million words spoken by me in my lifetime. Don’t you think that’s enough?

I’ve never considered myself good at talking. I’m better at writing. If you give me a half hour to compose a thought, I’ll do fine. And maybe let me think about what you just said overnight, I’ll have a good reply. And if I could review our whole conversation and edit it when we’re done, I’d come across as pretty sharp.

Nope. A fellow says something, the words are out there, and they aren’t coming back. Of my 59 million words, probably a couple million were not what I meant. Another million didn’t make much sense. Then there have been times words came out of my mouth, and I desperately wanted to reach out, grab them, and stuff ’em back in.

Pam and I have been together for a lot of years. She’s heard all my best stuff; when the stars are aligned, I can be quite witty. She would also vouch for my ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place to the wrong person. She’s not much of a talker, so she’ll be fine with a couple of quiet decades around here.

I am encouraged in my new resolution by Proverbs 10:19. “In the multitude of words there lacketh not sin, but he that restraineth his lips is wise.” That’s King James. A contemporary translation is, “A person who talks too much gets into trouble. A wise person learns to be quiet.” A really contemporary version might go, “Shut up once in while, it won’t kill you.”

Another reason I’ve decided that I don’t need to say any more is a growing appreciation for stillness. Take one of those perfect summer nights, when the air is clear and sharp, and you look up and see thousands of stars. You lie on a blanket gazing heavenward and there are no words to describe the magnificence. Does someone really need to say, “Oh, look at all the stars! Aren’t they beautiful?” Better to let the firmament speak for itself.

In the same way, I’ve learned when I am with someone who is dealing with deep loss, nothing might be the best thing you can say. You aren’t going to “help” anyway; you aren’t going to make the sadness go away. It’s better to just be there to listen and maybe offer a hand. Your presence and caring in quietude can say more than words.

There is one time I am confident that I am using right words. I am a lector at St. Mary’s. My readings are typically from the Old Testament or the Letters of the Apostles. In the Catholic Mass this is called the Liturgy of the Word. These aren’t my words, and it is a joy to be able to give voice to these venerable words. As I prep for reading, I try to make them as much mine as I can, to let them flow through me, to be a vessel for their author.

Otherwise, words don’t always come out right. We are social animals, and we are called to be in relationships. It’s just not always easy, even with the ones we love most. There are times I recognize a teachable moment with one of the kids and want to rise to it. I rehearse in my head exactly what I want to say. Then the moment comes, and something comes out of my mouth. But it isn’t what was on the script.

There are times when I am in a good mood (or maybe had a few beers) when words pour out. These moments of effervescence make time fly by. But later on, I find myself thinking, “I really shouldn’t have said this or that.” I should have said less. Then there are times when I am in a lesser mood when words don’t come as easily. And later on, I’m thinking, “I should have brought up this point.” I should have said more.

I do have a role model for my new found quiet self. We have a pair of horses. Horses don’t like to be alone. They are a herding animal, and Ice and Montana form their own little herd. They eat together, exercise together, and just hang out, all in relative quiet and contentment. Sometimes they just stand next to each other, facing the sun, warming together. There is a bond between the two, in a horse-kind of way. They don’t have to be clever or insightful or worry about saying the right thing.

Now that I’m giving up talking, you might see me standing somewhere with the sun in my face. Feel free to come, stand next to me. We’ll enjoy the sun’s warming rays together. You don’t have to say anything.

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