It requires nerve to become really quiet,” John Main
I’m lying in bed in the dark, my face lit up by the blue screen of my laptop as my dry eyes finally close and let sleep come. I’m not up working on an important job or even binge-watching a suspenseful show. This is just how I go to sleep every night. It doesn’t really matter what I’m watching, as long as I’m not lying in bed, alone, in the silence.
Falling asleep watching something—mostly light sitcoms—became a way of coping after my husband died suddenly when I was 34 years old. After I put my toddler to sleep, it was hard to return to my empty bedroom and face the silence and his empty side of the bed.
As long as I had my laptop open beside me, the little green balls on social media meant that I wasn’t truly alone. Re-watching old sitcoms until my eyelids grew heavy was a comforting distraction. It meant I could avoid that moment or two before sleep came, lying in the dark, feeling alone and kind of terrified.
As the years went by, I added more, not less, background noise. I fostered a growing addiction to self-help articles and books. As a nonfiction writer, I’ve always perused the library and bookstores to see the newest nonfiction books: memoirs, literary works, philosophy, or reporting.
But soon the stacks of books on my desk waiting to be read had titles like, “Happy Healthy You!” “The Art of Stopping Time,” and “Refuse to Choose!” Soon there were twelve open tabs on my laptop at any given time with everything from online seminars on parenting a sensitive child to eating for more hormonal balance.
My life was alternating between this kind of self-help-striving and the numbing of my nightly routine: “I’m going to figure everything out and finally get it together,” and then “I’m just going to shut down and forget everything for a little while.” I knew it wasn’t serving me anymore.
Then during Lent, always a time ripe for transformation, I read this passage by Henri Nouwen,
It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them…You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you.”
I’d become uncomfortable with quiet, not actual noiselessness, but the deep quiet of my heart and mind. What would I hear, I began to wonder if I stopped falling asleep to artificial light and a script instead of my own thoughts? What would I find if I stopped scrolling, reading, and striving by my sheer will and volition?
What would I discover if I just sat in the quiet? Maybe healing. Maybe myself. It was worth finding out.
When your child is having a meltdown, that is not the time to try to figure things out logically. “Why do you think you did that?” or “What do you think you can do better next time?” aren’t the right questions. Instead, we just articulate the emotions of the child who isn’t developmentally able to do so yet on their own. “That really hurt your feelings didn’t it?” “You’re scared, huh?” It’s only then that the wound goes down to the heart, the real tears start to come, and the child usually collapses in her mother’s arms.I've done a lot of things with my wounds. I fight back, I hide, I shut down—fight, flight, or freeze. Click To Tweet
But there is another way of being, a way that doesn’t require numbing or striving. “In quietness and trust is your strength,” I am reminded.
What if instead of trying to solve things, I got really quiet and acknowledged, “This is really hard,” or “This really hurts.” Maybe like the child having a tantrum finally calms and accepts her mother’s embrace, I too will find I’m held and embraced, and not alone at all.
Julia Cho blogs at Studies in Hope. On her widely-read blog, Dear Audrey, she chronicled her grief process after the sudden death of her husband.
Her writing has been published by the parenting blog of The New York Times, Elephant Journal, Modern Loss, Literary Mama and others.