People have called me an ‘old soul’ pretty much all my life, it seems like. 19 years old, and people think of me as an old soul. Is it any wonder I over-think things?
Not that they’re wrong, I guess; it comes from knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Or just always keeping your mouth shut, I guess. People around me talk all the time, as if it just comes easy to them; I wonder if they know how wonderful that is, how much my soul quivers with joy when I say something and it doesn’t come out ridiculous.
But does that really make me any more mature? Or does it just make me scared?
Perhaps it’s maturity; I like to think of it like that, anyway. While the rest of the world goes on running at break-neck speed and screaming over the static of society, I sit in the corners yet untouched by the noise, still vibrating with echoes of the mystical quiet of Eden, and wait for the cool of the day when the Lord whispers into my soul. How I wish I could walk with Him like Adam and Eve in the garden.
I guess “listener” has always been built into my soul, partly genetics, partly experience, and partly something else I can’t quite put my finger on that now and again just quivers with happiness every time someone confides in me or simply speaks with me. Sometimes I wish I could be the one doing the talking, that I could take a little more central role, stand a moment in the sun and not always feel sidelined. And yet, as Agatha Christie says of Mr. Satterthwaite in Three Act Tragedy, “the role of onlooker suited him well”.
Really, what it all comes down to is opening the heart as well as the ears. A good listener needs not only to hear and remember well all that has been told them; anyone could do that. A true listener has to be able to do something a little more: take everything they hear into their own hearts. It takes a certain kind of sympathy, or perhaps a kind of empathy, or both, with a spectacular kind of solidarity which, together in some miracle of grace, allow you to enter into the life of the other. You must be able to exercise that beautiful gift called understanding at any moment, even if the voice you listen to grates on your ears or stabs at your heart. You must have an inner life that is rich with experience and incredibly fertile.
Perhaps the best listener I know is my new “big”. Only this morning, I became an intent to a household, sort of the Catholic version of a frat (minus the drinking, drugs, and other assorted stupidity). A “big” is someone in the household who is something of a mentor, like a big brother to you, walking with you through the process to become part of the household according to the covenant. Mine happens to be a dear friend (well not “happens to”, I got to choose; but hey, he could have said no). Though he comes off as very outgoing and talkative, he has an impeccable ability to silence himself, to to quiet his heart whenever I need to speak. His quiet, gentle nature doesn’t inhibit him from being a rambunctious, quirky guy; his loud, boisterous personality doesn’t block out his calm, understanding heart–so understanding that he is often able to articulate what I myself couldn’t quite pull from my own heart.
So maybe it’s high time I took up my role as listener properly–to let go of the fears (because I have plenty of them, trying to choke out the words I want to speak) and actually fall into silence less out of necessity and more out of understanding; to let go of the twisted idea that being quiet and being talkative are mutually exclusive.
It’s time to quiet my old soul, tell myself it’s ok to rest now; it’s ok to stop being afraid; it’s ok to stop throwing up walls that just keep collapsing anyway. It’s ok to just live, to just laugh, to just love.
As he waved goodbye, his smiling face collapsed in exhaustion into his hands.
It’s ok…You’re ok…
It had been long. Far too long. Too beautifully, painfully long to begin to understand.
Breathe…slowly now, slowly…
He sank back into the chair, rubbing his temples. The wooden trunk before him creaked and moaned.
No, just stop…don’t…
The lid gently creaked open…
…very well, then…
Out broke a tangled network of rusted railways, humming with a cacophony of laughter, tunes, and tears. They beckoned him into himself, his inner world.
Just one…just take one…
With all the willpower he could muster, he crushed his world down to the size of a dime and balanced it on a ballpoint pen. He’d bent a few railways in the process, but at least it was all small enough that he could pretend he understood it. At least until he grabbed the first set of tracks in the tangle and began to tug.
As he slowly rolled his mind down the tracks, pulling rail by rail out of the tangle, the memories poured out on his bony fingers in a moan of relief. They burned his skin like acid as they fell, but they weren’t burning him from the inside anymore.
He had no excuse anymore. He had to untangle it.
Because he wasn’t alone anymore.
He looked to the crucifix on the wall. “Courage, dear heart…It will burn, but it is only a purging…I have already withstood these flames…”
Such a long conversation, at least in terms of its heaviness. Speaking in linear terms, it had been only a matter of minutes. But when his heart spoke, it went on murmuring for hours. It could either make the untangling delightfully easy or painfully difficult. And it always meant a new railway.
But it wasn’t something he could just stop; even as he untangled, his heart reveled in the words that passed from their lips into its lovingly prepared inner chambers. He was born to listen, to come as Simon to the crosses of others.
And yet he wondered if he would ever learn to open the wooden trunk, the doors to his inner life, before another.
“Hey, are you ok?”
No, no, no! They found it! They found you! They–
In the arms of his friend was a wooden trunk, creaking and moaning. Maybe he could–was it possible? Could anyone understand?
“Courage, dear heart…”
Could he set his world free? Let himself out?
His world began to stretch out, bend itself in a gentle arch towards this other…
…Very well, then.
“Actually, could we talk?”
“I will speak to you in the silence…but sometimes the best way to quiet your heart is to speak…Be not afraid, I have seen and redeemed your world, your life…Courage, be still…”
Many of my poems refer to a rush I don’t understand, something that passes me by, something not quite in my ability to grasp. This is my reference to conversation.
I am, and always have been, an extreme introvert, a lover of silence, not quite comfortable when it seems to fall on me to hold a conversation. And I have never liked this about me. It has always been a source of anxiety and frustration. How unfair, I thought, that one who so desires to be able to speak should be so utterly inept.
How very wrong I have been.
We live in a world already choked by an obscene obsession with noise. Silence is automatically labelled awkward, and “introversion” has almost come to be viewed as a disease. Reflection is rare, and silent prayer even more so. Is it any wonder we find so many people utterly directionless and tossed in an ocean of cares and anxieties?
For those who consider themselves extroverts, don’t get me wrong. It’s extremely important to have those willing and able to to do the things you do so well. But ask yourselves: how often do you take time to just walk away from others, put down the laptop and the iPod, and simply let the silence wash over you?
A dear friend once reminded me, “It was in the silence of a cold winter’s night that Christ came into the world. It’s in the silence that He comes to us again.” Silence is nothing to fear. In silence God is able to work most deeply and effectively in us. By surrendering utterly to Him with all our senses and our soul in complete silence, we can be touched by a beauty that even the most moving music, inspiring poem, or deep prayer cannot give to us.
So, my fellow introverted pilgrims, walk confidently in the quiet, for you have a gift: you can more easily reach a peace and beauty that all the words spoken on this Earth can never accomplish. It’s normal to want to talk more, and don’t be afraid to push yourself to speak more freely. But never look at the silence as a curse; it is a far greater blessing than the gift of gab.
And to fellow pilgrims who are more extroverted, continue to share yourself openly and happily, for the ability to share so willingly, to place yourself before the eyes of the world, is indeed a blessing that can accomplish great blessings on this Earth. But never forget to take time to touch Heaven in the silence.