Friday, May 24 2024 - 12:20 PM
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On Being Mute

Thirteen days ago, I lost my voice. At first, it was simply croaky, squeaky, and scratchy. By the next day, however, it was gone. Days of coughing and fever wore it away until there wasn’t any possibility of sounding more than a whisper. One week into my muteness at a second doctor’s visit, she proclaimed: “You may not get your voice back for two more weeks.”

I am discouraged and have canceled almost two weeks of counseling clients. I finally wrote to several of them by snail mail. Clients are responding with understanding and patience. Being mute has struck when I am within 32 hours of completing requirements for my counseling licensure. Yet I am helpless. My son has joked that I could make cards to hold up in sessions: How Does that Make you Feel?  If not for my ability to whisper this would be like living out a game of charades. I have proclaimed myself “The People Whisperer.”

Other Mutes

I am reminded of other mutes that I have read about or encountered. At first, I think of Zechariah, the priest father of John the Baptist. Zechariah was in unbelieving amazement when the Angel Gabriel announced to him that he would father a child in his old age. So the angel proclaimed, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time (Luke 1:20; NIV). Poor Zechariah spent about 10 or so months unable to speak aloud—a rough sentence for a priest.

I remember watching the Marx Brother’s in old movies. Harpo had that audacious red hair, weird long coat, and he got everyone’s attention by squeaking a bicycle horn that he carried. Harpo raced around doing outrageous things yet he could play a beautiful real harp. I am beginning to see the utility of having something like a bicycle horn to get others’ attention. The downside to muteness is a certain sense of vulnerability in the face of emergency or danger. Who would know if I was being attacked, or there was a fire or many other possibilities? Harpo’s horn would be a useful companion in the long term.

Internal Peace

My own muteness has also given me a new sense of internal peace and freedom. I do not need to keep asking for things, explaining things, calling people, calling the dog, talking to myself. The dog is getting used to my whispers and pointing. My husband is now the one to carry the weight of conversations between us. I used to think of him as the quiet one so this is a switch in our identities. I am only required to nod and smile at neighbors or people in public, and I don’t feel compelled to phone relatives or friends.

Fasting from voice is a restful concept. What if everyone chose to be mute for one day each week, or part of one day? I have attended silent retreats before but it was with the knowledge that I could speak at any time if needed. Somehow I don’t even feel the need to fill up the air with radio, music, or TV as much as when I could speak. I am more content to take quiet naps, read a little, or quietly write e-mail letters as I recover.

Praise and Joy

Last week a clerk at the grocery store said that she once lost her voice for several months. I really hope that I soon regain my ability to speak. Along with my voice is a solid part of my current identity. Who will I become if my being mute continues? I have even toyed with the thought of how I will remake my life if my voice does not return. I would miss the chance to hum or sing again. Yet I have found myself singing the words of favorite hymns in my own head–actually, I am quite a powerful singer in my own mind! Praise and joy are not limited to one’s lips and vocal chords. Ephesians 5:19 reminds me, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

Praise and contentment originate in the heart: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks,” (Luke 6:45. NIV). Jesus added in Matthew 15:18: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’” Periods of muteness, whether by illness or design, are not wasted times. Quietness can actually become times of heart work—renewing our inner strength and not just relying on the cleverness or power that we think our words possess.

If you liked this, you may also like Beloved Voices 

Karen Spruill writes from Florida.

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About Karen Spruill

Karen Spruill

writes from Orlando, Florida.

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