My last boyfriend—let’s call him James—had a nickname for me: Darth Vague.
(I’m certain he meant it as an endearment!)
James was perpetually accusing me of being unclear. This confused me because, before being with him, I’d rarely had a problem being clear.
I tried to pretend that this new vague version of me was out of some saintly desire to be perpetually positive, but that wasn’t the truth. In reality, I was petrified that I would say the wrong thing—the “wrong thing” being the thing that would make him unhappy. Thus, our more serious conversations were liberally dusted with drawn out silences while the gears in my brain overheated. I was running through every permutation of word combinations looking for what would be the most benign. What came out on the conveyor was…Darth Vague.
Later, I realized how much my attempts to sanitize my feelings did us both a disservice. The problem was never that I couldn’t find the words—it was that I feared the power words have to change things. Still, I craved them! I’m a writer. Give me beautifully strung together sentences over pearls any day. A good conversation is better than flowers. I don’t want things; I want communication and connection.
But while Darth Vague may be a thing of the past, I certainly don’t volunteer when I don’t have to. Silence seems easier than being vulnerable or continuously defining terms. Words lock me to something. I never know how they will be interpreted. Silence is safer. There are no promises in silence—and that means fewer disappointments.
Of course, there’s no denying the beauty of sharing space without words. Few of us can really sit comfortably with another person without feeling the need to fill the silence. Fear can cause a rush of words just as much as a total dearth of them. (And that rush of words is just as suspect as the ones too carefully considered.) But silence can help me to center. It can help me access my deeper feelings—and this allows me to express with greater integrity (and brevity!).
Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book ‘The Four Agreements,’ says that we should be impeccable with our word.
“Say only what you mean….Use the power of your word in the direction of Truth and Love.”
In order to speak with this kind of integrity, it is imperative that I be able to access the truth within myself.
It is not simply that we often deceive others with our words, saying one thing while our actions relay something else. It is that even when our intention is to be authentic, we begin to rely on words as something tangible—something that supplants action, something we can hold on to.
“My word is my bond” means we are making a promise. Integrity asks us to keep that promise, which means we must choose our words wisely and move past fear enough to communicate without artifice or self-protective measures; with the ability to match what we say with what we do and with the knowledge that very little in life is permanent.
Is that why so few of us speak our hearts? Why we no longer trust words? A blank page is freedom, while every word I write makes this emptiness take shape.
These words begin to craft my life—and that can be a frightening thing.
But this is all a necessary component of communication and connection. Language is a tool we use to share information, to evaluate and define the world around us. It is when I use it to communicate difficult concepts and emotion that I enter dangerous territory, when I work so hard to evaluate and define things that—by their very nature—defy definition. This is when I stop being “impeccable” with my word and start being calculating—when I want to control the outcome. Words are a vehicle for expression; sometimes they take us places we never marked on a map.
Such unpredictability used to terrify me and break my heart. (Truth be told, it still does.) I was perpetually looking for some happy state that I could make permanent; a state that was always solidified somehow by words. One of the most powerful magical phrases in our society—one that we frequently believe is meant to usher us into a new era of bliss—is “I love you.” But we forget that the magic is in the actual connection these words attempt to express, not in the words themselves. We lose faith in the words when it’s the connection itself that has suffered.
With James, I can remember a specific moment: Sunday summer afternoon. In the background, on TV, an old Evander Holyfield fight was playing. There was the rise and fall of his breathing. That was the moment—the one I wanted to lock in place. Peace. “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” he asked—lyrics from an old Louis Jordan song. I laughed and said, “I Is” and never were there truer words spoken.
But there came a day when he asked that question and I had only silence to give—the gears were spinning. I was looking for a sanitized version of the truth: “Not anymore.”
Our words alone do not hold us in place to one another, regardless of how many vows we make. Yet, I do not believe that this diminishes their value or their strength when combined with self-awareness and intention. If these were my final moments with the people I love, would I want to leave them with my silence or with my words? Can I fully express what is in my heart with the understanding that I am promised nothing, can promise nothing and yet still wish to communicate the connection and beauty I feel in a moment?
I know the value of silence, but I never want to hide in it. I want to be free to speak the truth and know that the thoughts and feelings behind what I express are fluid.
I want to tell you all words are written in sand. I will work hard every day to make them as impeccable as possible—and still the waves will wash them away. I am learning how to make that okay. To understand that all these words are merely symbols we use and can never be the absolute feeling, the absolute truth, the entirety of the heart we seek to express. But we try. Again and again, we will make our mark.
Time rubs at the lines; the space that emerges is Love.
Author: Stephanee Killen
Apprentice Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Thea Bee Photography