Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. These are the opening words of Simon and Garfunkel’s song of my youth, The Sound of Silence. You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fWyzwo1xg0 Pertinent now, in this dark time of year, and I find it even more relevant to this time of MeToo, where decades of silence are finally being broken in many ways.
Its so important for each of us to be able to tell our stories, to name our experiences, the welcome and the difficult. In order to be willing to tell, I’ve found for myself that I need to be able to trust that there is some likelihood that I will be listened to, and that the listener will allow me the time and space I need to tell my story. This is not a skill or habit that is currently valued in our society. There’s a real tendency to “hurry up”, interrupt, move on. I know, I’m guilty of it as well. And I keep practicing my listening skills.
“fools” say I , “you do not know/ Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/ Take my arms that I might reach you”/ But my words like silent raindrops fell/ and echoed/ In the weeks of silence. Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence
Giving voice is so important. It allows for understanding, and when one’s story is shared, there also exists the possibility that it will empower another. I was a young physician during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when the time from diagnosis to death was often measured in weeks. There was an enormous stigma at the time, “the gay plague” and as there was so little information and understanding about the illness and its transmission, fear was rampant, including among medical personnel. We wanted to help, and we also didn’t want to contract this terrible illness.
Eventually, there was a growth of knowledge, both about the disease process (it was a big deal to find the HIV virus) and some treatment options. During this time, advocacy groups developed, including ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power). Their motto was Silence = Death. I was struck then by the truth of that saying and continue to use it to this day. There has been great progress since those very dark days of the 1980’s, and there is still a great deal more progress to be made.
Silence continues to be broken, by those abused sexually and in other ways by persons in positions of power, and there is still a great effort made to silence the voices that will speak, by threats, intimidation, disinformation, distraction. There is more to do, and it will take courage and persistence.
I invite each of us listen respectfully, in silence, to our fellow humans who wish to break their silence and tell their story. And when it is our turn, we may break the silence and tell our stories as well.