I recently had a fraught email exchange with a friend. Most of the conflict came from me forgetting that we hadn’t spoken much in four years and in that time I have changed so much. I have moved from being an academic to a homeschool mom. Settled into my new position, I’m baffled when someone confronts me with the expectation that I should be my past self.
The last time we talked I had let her go on and on enthusiastically about my academic career, still thinking, myself, that it might be worth pursuing. I didn’t have the gumption to express my doubts, and I didn’t have the clarity to express the pull I felt toward staying home. I forgot that’s where we left off, and the anger in our conversation was my fault.
But with clarity on the pull I feel toward homeschooling, and with more clarity on my own wants and desires as well as my children’s, comes a newfound ability to set boundaries. And these boundaries challenge old relationship patterns, so often patterns where I try to please people and meet their expectations. I used to think I must take everyone’s advice, that following everyone’s advice would be the only way to stay safe in this harsh world. My propensity to follow advice gave a lot of people an opportunity to be emotionally invested in my choices. When I stopped making choices they liked, a lot of people got mad.
So this has been happening often. But I was stunned about this last conflict. I feel no anger to this person. I respect them and we agree on almost everything, so the difficulty of our exchange was astonishing. But one thing I didn’t feel was doubt.
When I visualize my move from my old life to this life, I picture a whale in the deep, vast ocean. The whale heavy, rounded, smooth. Like a stone, but mobile, slick, aerodynamic. With momentum and purpose and a long history of migration pulling it along. When someone comes along announcing their advice that I should go a different direction, it’s out of place, irrelevant, a small curiosity.
In the last four years I’ve spent many hours in silence. As a toddler my daughter had to be walked for hours just to take a nap, and I would walk in silence or sing the same lullaby over and over for an hour because changing the tune would keep her awake. I had a long commute where I needed to take her along, so I would drive four hours a day–also in silence or with the same kids music on repeat–to help her sleep. Even now, on a day-to-day basis, her auditory sensitivity means we only cautiously and for short periods play music or television that she hasn’t chosen. The things she does choose get repeated for years.
I’ve embraced this silence because I expected that the practice of deep, long term patience and meditative thought would lead me to an end product. I thought if I walked enough in silence I’d get not only clarity on my life decisions but some vision of artistic production. I’d come up with an idea for a novel, or a new artistic path, or something to replace the professional identity I was giving up. Something that would impress all the people who were so proud and impressed I was getting a Phd. Instead, I only got movement.
All of that silence was and still is in so many ways meditation. But instead of a replacement, an object I can show the world in order to regain the respect of friends who desire my “success,” I have gained only myself. I have gained a stronger sense of self, not for fighting others, but for moving myself. Silence has made me able to more clearly feel the pull of my journey and sing a song that does not need to be broadcast to the world, that does not need approval or security, that simply is myself.