It happened again last week. I was at a large meeting and the person next to me commented that I am always so calm and soft-spoken.
This is not the first time I've had to acknowledge that other people really can't hear the discussions I have all the time. In my head. It's also not the first time that I've been described at work as calm. Sometimes it's peaceful or unruffled. I’ve heard unflappable, too. I'm surprised each time it happens.
Growing up I was described by my family in many ways: none of which included 'calm.' Emotional. Cry-baby. Star. Drama queen. All may be true, and perhaps all were, but mostly I was quiet. Watching. Trying not to be heard. Quiet on the outside is safe. It was good to be seen and not heard.
My childhood home was not a setting of calm; with 5 children and a father with an unpredictable temper the only time the house was quiet was when the family wasn't there. I was not a neat child. With an almost Pigpen-like gift, I could walk outside and invite dirt, scrapes, and bruises to magically appear on my arms and legs. We were children during the 60's and 70's, a time when Summer meant your mother sent you outside in the morning, you were expected home at lunch, and dinner would be served at 5:00, with everyone gathered back inside around the table.
We kids would scatter all over the neighborhood. When I was sent outside to 'call them in', I stood on the side porch and let loose~ what?~ I can only describe it as a cross between a yodel and a bellow. We called it the ‘Whee-oh-Wheet’ and I can still do it today as long as I’m not planning to talk for the next week. I’m out of practice now, but back then a wordless, high-pitched, yawning screech penetrated the surrounding blocks of the neighborhood and brought my siblings home.
It was never truly quiet when I was a child; with five children fueled by Sugar Puffs, Lucky Charms, cherry Jello, and jugs of Kool-Aid we had a LOT of energy. Nighttime meant lights out and mouths shut. That was the time of day I brought my book down to the bottom of the bed and read in the light from the hallway. Even then I was simply trading audible noise for a clamor of ideas, questions, and thoughts crowding into my head.
To some extent, that clamor is still there. I've worked for years to stop and think before it comes out of my mouth. I've trained my face to be still. I listen. I listen to everything. (Which has brought the comment "You need to smile more" to me more than once.) It doesn't happen by accident. Given that effort, that awareness, why am I surprised to hear myself described in exactly the way I've worked so hard to be?
I think it's because the self-talk I use with myself is still using the old tone, the youthful volume. Strident. Impulsive. Demanding to be heard. Startled, I look into the mirror and see a woman that qualifies for a senior’s discount in some restaurants and not the 10-year old me. I'm learning to move through life in the skin I'm in, my body reflects the life I've lead and choices made by every shade of me that I've been.
Although you can’t hear her, I hear the old me talking. Maintaining a running monologue of commentary on the happenings around me and, to me, a not-silent critique of my actions and decisions. Sometimes, too, the happiness I'm feeling runs through my mind like a song, throwing strands of joy into my being like a wonderful melody.
I'm on guard so that you don't hear her, so that the old me isn't too loud... too fast... too thoughtless... too me. My voice, my tone, my word choice: those are all deliberate choices. Sometimes more successful than others.
For years I've used a mirror only to see a small segment- my face, my hair, my teeth, and managed to avoid all the rest of me. I have the skill to make sure my hem is even without ever noticing the body wearing the clothes. Recently I've forced myself to open my eyes all the way. To see myself the way other see me.
Now, I need to hear myself the way others hear me.
Careless words have hurt me; harsh words and clever comments have sometimes been my weapons of choice. That isn't the answer.
Calm: I can own it. Self control is necessary. However, I no longer need to be silent. Although I don't need to shout; I do need to let the music that I create inside reach out to others. I'm in here; I'm singing.
If you heard me through this article please click on the heart below to let me know.
Some other stories that might give you an idea about what used to run through my head: