After five weeks of total vocal rest, a necessary part of healing after a vocal cord surgery, I’ve started to speak again. My voice is weak and only slowly, am I gaining confidence in it. I’ve seen the before and after pictures of my vocal cords in the doctor’s office. What a difference a skilled surgeon, her laser scalpel, and several weeks of not speaking makes.
But more then the technical aspects of regaining my voice; what’s become more pressing is how I will use my voice from here on. Like the great Joni Mitchell song says: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone,” one almost never delves into the meaning of things, the essence of a thing until it’s removed from one’s life. The more sudden the loss, the more deeply felt it is.
A friend of mine described my use of words as a fortress, a “fortress of words” she called it, something that I use to guard myself with. I think she’s right, at least in part, and there had been something frightening about being cast into the world without words, my longtime protectors. But there was something wonderful as well, about shedding the armor and experiencing the vulnerability that came in its wake.
My first words back were nothing astonishing, I assure you. They were technical, something like: “Do you know where I can get some tea?” And I think my second set of words were: “Excuse me, I need to schedule another appointment.”
But now I’ve got some time to consider, not just what my next sentences will be, or what things I might say over the course of a day or a week, but what will be the nature of my words in general. What is it that I stand for, and how will my words make a powerful case for those ideals?
In not speaking one tends to hear a lot more of the conversations of other people. You hear a lot about the things they desire and how they use their words to receive those things. If I had to do a rough analysis of the things people say I’d argue that 70 percent of all words are purely procedural, as in: “Please pass the olive oil.” 10 percent are no more than utterances to fill the uncomfortable silences: “Hey kid, how’s school going?” (By the way, that is the sentence — in any language known to mankind — that is least likely to get a child to respond.)
Then I’m sad to say, I’d have to ascribe 15 percent to something I call damning words. Words such as: Did you see how fat Helen’s gotten? We love our damning words because we can barely help ourselves from making the purely illogical assumption that if someone else is doing poorly, we must ourselves, be doing well.
And then I’d leave about 5 percent for the best words of all — and here, by way of example, I’ll elaborate with a truthful sentence to the people I love most in the world:
“I want you to know that when my mind is still (which I hope will happen more and more often) I believe my thinking becomes more refined and therefore, closer to something akin to truth. It is a truth, which portrays life as something fleeting, and that time is short. It is a truth, which declares that your friendship and love are the most meaningful things to me. Even though I strive each day for purposes that are mostly unknown, here in this moment, I think of you and I cherish the blessing of our connection more than you can possibly know…”
Perhaps we couldn’t take more then 5 percent of this kind of talk. Maybe our cynicism and the distractions that life necessarily imposes on us, interdicts this last kind of speech.
And yet I can’t help but think that in the end, (and who among us knows for sure when our end will come) the only speech that will matter is the 5 percent kind. The words that exist only to bind us, one to the other.