Monday, February 7, 2011

Shutting Up

When I was six years old, my parents came home from the first of many parent teacher meetings at my school. "Sister Rosalia said you are a very nice little girl and a very good student, too." my mother said.
"She did?" I asked, excitedly. "Did she also tell you..." I started but my mother cut me off.
"What she also said was that you need to stop talking so much." she said.
Somehow I wasn't surprised in the least. This was most certainly no earth shattering piece of information to me or to my parents, for that matter. I was routinely sent to the office for talking in class, though the habit was not simply limited to the classroom. I grew up being called "Chatty Kathy" by my family and I even talked in my sleep with shocking frequency. I'm told by my husband that little habit has still not resolved itself.
Over the years I have managed to learn to shut up when necessary. In the last few years however, I have come to realize that shutting up may be more than a necessity, it just may be a considerate act toward those around me. 
If you think about your communication with the people you come into contact with each day, you'll see what I mean. For example, I go to the grocery store and really don't speak to anyone until I reach the checkout counter. The clerk dutifully asks me how I am and I follow the appropriate social norm and respond with, "Fine. How are you?". I could have a ten inch knife sticking out of the side of my head and I'd probably still say, "Fine." because after all, does the clerk really care? Probably not.
The next time I'm at the bank and the teller asks me how I am, I think I'll respond with "Well, funny you should ask. My entire family was wiped out last week by malaria, a meteor fell on my house on Monday and my dog, who just contracted rabies, bit me on my way out this morning. I guess overall I'd have to say I'm pretty shitty. How 'bout you?" I guarantee I would be met with a look of confusion, horror, or outright concern for my sanity and nothing more. The bottom line is it really doesn't matter. Unless you are paid to care (therapists, etc.) people generally are too busy with their own lives to really care too much about anyone else.
So what about those in our personal circle? I guess that depends on just how big your circle is. I don't work and since I moved away from my hometown I really don't even get to see or speak to my friends anymore so that makes my circle really small. If I am sad or upset about something, who can I talk to? Well, there is my sister, who is newly pregnant with a very, very fragile pregnancy, has two other children, three dogs, a husband who is about to be deployed again and is moving this week. Hmmm...... dump more on her? No freaking way!
I also have children, but wait..... oh, that's right.... they are children. They shouldn't have to worry about adult issues yet. They have enough to worry about with school, friends, and being kids.
So I guess that leaves my husband. I can always talk to him. We can always talk in the mornings.... except he is usually trying to hurry to get out to work. But there are times when he doesn't have to go in quite so early.... except he usually asks me to be quiet so he can sleep a little longer. Well, there are always evenings when he gets home from work.... except he rarely gets home before 7 or 8pm and by the time he does get home he is so tired he usually quickly tells me about his day, eats dinner then falls asleep. It's not for lack of concern, mind you. He does try to stay awake to talk to me, he is just usually very tired and can't keep his eyes open.
I miss getting to talk to people. Actually, I think I miss being heard more. I'm finding the older I get, the fewer people there are to talk to and the fewer people there are to talk to the less I have to say. There are too few people and too little time. Things seem less important than they used to. Perhaps the key to learning how to shut up was learning that no one was ever really listening anyway.

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