Late in January of this year I underwent surgery to remove what the doctors suspected was a cyst from my vocal folds. During the week immediately following the surgery I was not allowed to talk.
For seven days, I didn’t utter a single word. And I tried, unsuccessfully, not to cough or clear my throat.
Needless to say, communication became a challenge. Any comments I had about, well anything going on around me, lost their humor and/or impact because they came late. I would frantically type a message on my phone, trying to write quickly, but coherently, while keeping an eye out for errors or autocorrect missteps that would confuse the opinion I wanted to share with those still in the room.
My family pretended to laugh at comments that would have been quite funny three minutes earlier, and they patiently asked for clarification when I had to remind them about the comment they had made just before I started typing.
But it was difficult and frustrating. And my house was filled with the ding of text message alerts from their phones on an increasing basis.
Strangers, while polite and helpful for the most part (thank you), still had less patience with my struggles to communicate. On one trip out, at which point I was allowed to talk for less than five minutes of every hour, and preferably not at all according to my doctor, someone questioned whether or not I had anything going on “up there” simply because I was struggling to stay silent and use the minuscule amount of sign language I knew to respond to his hello and to communicate the fact that I wasn’t supposed to talk.
The miscommunication happened quickly and easily. And it disturbed me because I was worried that other people were assuming the same thing about me.
I was also wondering if I’d ever made such a rude assumption myself. And it gave me a flicker of understanding of what life might be like for those who face the challenge to communicate on a permanent basis.
This incident came to my mind again yesterday after listening to a talk at church. And was further influenced by a movie I watched on Friday.
When the women in my church were gathered together yesterday afternoon, the teacher spoke to our congregation about a religious conference talked titled “Abide in Love.”
The talk was given in October of 2016 by a Latter Day Saint, or Mormon, leader named D. Todd Christofferson. During his presentation, Christofferson discusses the importance of love and the work required in order to abide in love. He specifically mentions the experiences faced by Hellen Keller, a woman who became deaf and blind after a childhood illness.
Hellen Keller faced immense challenges as she slowly learned how to communicate with the world. It was only the love and determination of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, that made this a possibility for the young Hellen.
Being reminded of this story, helped to clarify for me the amount of love that is sometimes needed by our fellow humans on this earth. This is true in general, but is especially in regards to communication between people.
It can take a lot of work to express yourself, and even more to express yourself in a way the recipient of your communication will understand.
That is where love comes into play. And why it is so important that we “abide in love” as we struggle through life, attempt to communicate with others, and remain open to their attempts at communication.
The movie I watched that influenced the thoughts going through my head on Sunday, was “The Arrival.” In this movie the main character, a linguist who is representing the US, spends months trying to communicate with aliens who have arrived on the planet. This process of communication takes hard work and dedication and if such a situation was ever real, it would require love to be successful. Those speaking on behalf of the American people would need to rely on their love for their country and their love for their family and friends to find the strength to face such a challenging and frightening situation.
These two stories, in addition to reminding me about the importance of love and dedication, also reminded me about how important it is to learn how to communicate with others and how easy it is to be misunderstood.
In the weeks since my Week of Silence, I have been extremely limited in the amount of talking I am allowed to do. And, honestly, the amount of talking that I am physically capable of doing. It’s still frustrating how quickly my voice gets tired, how easily my throat gets sore, and how quietly I have to talk. (I am a teacher, and my loud teacher voice is/was my normal voice.)
But I’m still glad for the experience. During this time, I realized that I, that we, need to think about the work and dedication that it takes to communicate with others. And to think about the love that needs to be apart of those communications.
We especially need to remember the love that is necessary when communication is challenging. Which it always is.
We’ve all had arguments with loved ones, misunderstood something they’ve said, and yelled at them or been yelled at.
One of the ways we “Abide in Love” is to do the work, the often times hard work, to learn how to communicate with others.
I hope for you, and myself, that I will always be willing to act on the dedication and work that I need to compete in order to communicate with my family, my friends, and, most importantly, with my Heavenly Father.