By Deb Avery
I may not have the voice of eloquence that some posses, or the beautiful, flowering voice of a poet, but still, I do have a voice.
For so long it was silenced. Sometimes by others, sometimes by myself.
In childhood there was such depth to my thoughts, yet I lacked the maturity and vocabulary to express what I was thinking and feeling. I was the quiet one who expressed herself through her actions, drawings, and affection.
As I grew older I learned to hold my feelings inside and keep my voice quiet because what I felt was considered too much. Too sensitive, too bold, too different, too rebellious, or too unladylike—too something. So instead, I learned to commune with nature in a language that we both understood—silence, deep gratitude and love.
In adulthood I still found difficulty with expression. Often it was fear that restrained my voice from telling the world how, why and what, I loved and felt deeply. Sometimes I did not even understand myself. It was a difficult time. I felt so deeply, yet whenever I tried to express my feelings, it was met with fear because it was in a different language from those I shared my life with.
Even when I got married, moved away and found friends with voices that harmonized with mine, it was frowned upon by those I loved and held dear. I was reminded that this was not me. My friends were too much; too loud, too sensitive, too weird, too—something.
So, I tried hiding behind a mask of normalcy, complacency and good intentions. I learned to hide well. I seemed to function effortlessly no matter the weight or distortion of the mask I wore. I even learned to hide from myself.
As the years went on, and on, I sailed along in a boat of quiet, domestic bliss. I sometimes wondered why it was that I seemed to have more work to do than my boat mate, but after all, he was in the captain’s seat. I was simply doing what was expected and needed from me as the captain’s mate.
We all have our talents, and mine were strength, endurance, and knowing what needed to be done to keep the captain headed on the course of his choosing.
When the time came to rock the boat, as it does in everyone’s life when they must choose if they are to survive, I found myself in very rough seas. A sudden storm came furiously from nowhere and I was flung into the raging water without so much as a life preserver. I flailed, gasped for air and panicked from the suddenness and violence of the situation. I was engulfed by enormous waves of distention and I fought to stay above water. My mask became soon became heavy with water and I could not breathe.
In desperation I ripped the mask from my face and cried out in despair. My voice was loud and clear above the noisy and tumultuous storm. I found that it was stronger and clearer than I had ever thought possible. It was unwavering in its decision to have its say after what seemed a lifetime of being kept silent. It cried out in the night with words of courage, hope, and a relentless determination.
The next day, I found myself washed ashore, on a deserted island, alone. I was afraid, broken and bruised, drained of all energy—but somehow still alive. Gloriously, gratefully, alive.
My voice was hoarse and weak from the ordeal, but it was still there, still finding words to express all the pain, the sadness, the grief and tragedies of the damage from the storm.
Since that day I have had many challenges. As others have done before me, I had to learn to cope with being alone and frightened on unfamiliar land, learning to heal myself as best I could. It was not easy. There were times when I doubted the competency of my recently freed voice. There were many times when I wondered if I could have done anything differently to help save my mate from the depths of the sea that overcame him and pulled him down with the boat.
Maybe if I had been a better captain’s mate, or maybe if I had been more assertive in pointing out that we were headed for stormy weather, or maybe, just maybe, if I had only been brave enough to find my voice a little sooner—things might have gone differently. Maybe we could still be sailing down the coast in our cozy little boat. Safe in the calm waters where there is no danger of storms.
But then I remembered how shallow the waters were that surrounded us most of the times; too far out to paddle in and enjoy the beauty of the coastline, but too far in to follow the stars to new and better adventures.
Life had become a lot of difficult and monotonous knot tying just to keep the sails aloft.
It was during these moments of doubt and guilt that I finally realized that our journey had to come to an end. I wished we both could have sailed away into the sunset—albeit in different directions, in different boats.
Today I am the captain of my own boat. There is no one to blame for my bad decisions or misadventures but myself. But then, there is a source of joy and accomplishment even when the inevitable miscalculations occur. For I am learning to become a good captain and a pretty decent navigator.
And when the nights become long and it’s just myself and the sea, I take comfort in the ocean breezes, the sun, the moon and stars, and the sound of my own voice, rising clear, strong and confident, as it joins others on this beautiful voyage of life.
Editor: Dana Gornall