Being in Silence

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Broward County, Sheriff Scott Israel said “It’s catastrophic. There really are no words.” 

Leaders, however, are expected to find words that heal, even when there are no words. I will never forget the pain of having to address my campus after the unexpected death of a beloved young Vice President.   

There may not be words, but it seems we have also lost the ability to be with each other in silence. The week before the shooting I had read a blog post, “Community and the Complexities of Presence,” by Kristin Lin, Editor, On Being Studios.  “I’ve come of age in the world of words; she said, “I believe in their power to connect, even redeem, us. I take faith – comfort - in their ability to frame, account, order, justify. But I think I’ve forgotten (or never knew) the value of not knowing what to say, or even want to think, or do – the value of simply being – and being accepted for just that.”

Lin’s observation came as the result of a visit to a gathering of L’Arche communities. In these communities, people with intellectual disabilities live with able-bodied assistants, not as the needy and their helpers, but as members of a community who share the everyday activities and celebrations of life.  L’Arche was founded in the 1960’s by a young man who had been visiting asylums for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. Moved by the “sadness and isolation” he witnessed, he invited two asylum patients to live with him. The lesson Lin draws from his story is that ‘the response to despair is to pull the hurt closer and closer, until you’re under the same roof.”

This is the opposite of what we are doing in today’s polarized climate.  We are moving further and further apart, unable to listen or even be with each other. The hurt following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School brought some people together in their grief but has thus far only generated name calling and hostility around the issue of gun control. We retreat into our own camps, delaying the possibility of change.

The day after the shooting, Joseph Heithaus called Sherriff Israel’s statement “… an appeal to us to listen to one another or listen, for a time, to nothing at all.” In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times,, he shared that his experience living among Quakers in Costa Rica taught him “that intentional and focused dwelling in quiet is a space at once empty and rich with possibility, for both individuals and communities, At moments like this, listening to one another is perhaps our only hope for avoiding catastrophes like this one, where in the aftermath, there really are no words.”

I don’t imagine us all becoming Quakers, but what a valuable lesson to apply to the way we go about healing and preventing  another mass shooting. 

And while I do not agree with the things Senator Marco Rubio stands for, especially his support for the NRA and unfettered gun ownership, he made a valid point during his opening remarks at the town hall meeting conducted for survivors of the shooting and their families. He said that people who disagreed had to come together and listen to one another. Clearly, town hall meetings are not the place where that happens. Speechmaking at nationally televised events is not the same as problem solving. That will occur in small groups of people committed to mutual respect and genuine listening, or even being together in silence.

wordle for silence.jpg
Barbara Viniar1 Comment