voice – noun \ˈvȯis\
: the sounds that you make with your mouth and throat when you are speaking, singing, etc.
: the ability to speak
: the ability to sing
“I lost my voice,” I croaked to a small gathering of writers who had come to a workshop Ann Kroeker and I were leading in Round Rock, Texas. We all chuckled at the irony, because though I was referring to my years as a newspaper reporter when I felt my unique perspective was lost in the news cycle, I literally had lost my voice that morning to laryngitis. I spent the day straining into a microphone to communicate anything at all.
We had organized the workshop to coincide with the release of our new book, On Being a Writer. Though we weren’t sure the book would be available at the time, Ann and I were both going to be in Texas, and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to encourage writers we might not otherwise meet. As I gulped down cupfuls of tea with lemon throughout the morning just to speak in a loud whisper, Ann also struggled with a food allergy reaction and fatigue from weeks of stress. We had a rough go of it.
But for that workshop, it didn’t matter too much because the real work of the day was inviting the participants to interact with each other, to share their own successes and failures, to inspire each other with their own unique perspectives. Our voices, mine and Ann’s, were just two among many.
I may have missed this important element of the day had I arrived with full-timbred tonsils and the strong sense of self-importance that healthfulness might otherwise have lent.
Truth is, I lost my voice for most of the whole week I was traveling around Texas. I squeaked my way through, but in one setting after another—sightseeing in Austin, a basketball game at Texas School for the Deaf, The High Calling Retreat at Laity Lodge—the stuffy feeling between my throat and ears and the threat of a coughing fit that would require leaving the room kept me quieter than usual. I listened more. I asked raspy questions and then waited for answers.
Not being able to speak helped me hear better.
Sunday morning after the workshop, I temporarily had no voice at all. None. I mouthed necessities to my hosts, Jon and Shelly Bergeron, and I nearly stayed home from church out of embarrassment. Wouldn’t it be awkward for other people to ask me questions when I couldn’t answer them? But staying home would mean I would miss Food Truck Sunday, and where but Austin, Texas, do churches invite box trucks serving Asian noodles and Southern barbecue to set up in the parking lot after the services? I had to go.
As I walked into the high-school-gymnasium-turned-sanctuary for the morning service, suddenly I could speak just a little. It wasn’t much more than a whisper, but I could respond if needed. I found a seat as Shelly caught up with friends, and as a woman approached me, I mustered strength in my sore vocal chords. When she spoke though, I still couldn’t respond, because her words were formed with hands, not throat, and she listened with her eyes, not ears. I shouldn’t have been surprised. We were sitting in the sign language section, after all, where the music, announcements, and sermon would all be interpreted into American Sign Language (ASL). Jon and Shelly have two sons who are deaf; ASL is their primary language at home.
I smiled and shrugged to the woman, trying to communicate with gestures and signals. Unfortunately, I don’t speak ASL. But for all my concern that for one morning I wouldn’t be able to communicate, I understood in that moment that this woman faces the loneliness of having no voice most days. At least in the sign language section at church, she thought she would finally be heard. When she encountered me, she was wrong.
When Shelly rejoined me, I told her about the encounter, how horrible I felt that I couldn’t communicate.
“Will you tell her I’m sorry?” I asked, hoping Shelly’s hands could be my voice. “Tell her that I don’t speak ASL, that I’m sorry I didn’t understand her.”
Later that night, I joined a group of women for dinner hosted by Kristin Schell, a “Friendsgiving,” she called it. As the night went on, my voice got weaker and weaker. Ann was there, too, and Shelly. And in various conversations, the two of them continued to be my voice when the many words I was attempting became too much.
I encountered many people throughout the week who are trying to be a voice for those who have none. Not just speaking for a feverish friend with laryngitis, but speaking for the beleaguered and weary, the disenfranchised who cannot speak for themselves or who speak and are never heard. I met Ronne Rock and the Penningtons who speak out for orphans; I talked with Tammy Hendrickson and Amy Breitmann about their vision for connecting people who have been hurt by the church; and I sat across from Lisha Epperson, who has a heart for families struggling through infertility and the church struggling toward diversity and reconciliation. And there were so many others.
By the time I got home, my voice was nearly back to normal, though even now, a week and a half later, I find the raspiness returning in the mornings and evenings. I gulp down cough syrups to prevent the hacking, and I swallow pills to abate the pain.
But receiving my voice back has become less a medical issue and more a heart issue. Quieting the vocal chords requires quieting my spirit, and listening better is a habit I need to grow into.
WORD COUNT: 940
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment so I can stop by and join you.