“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?…you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.” –Stephen King
My friend Kirsetin posted this quote on her blog this week and invited her readers to respond to it. She wrote of the hidden yearnings that are so hard to voice. The things your heart whispers that don't seem to make sense for your life and so you keep them quiet for fear of humiliation or failure.
But this quote hits me in a different place. It brings back a tumble of memories. Memories of each of the times I struggled to speak my truth to someone who didn't really want to hear it, or to someone who I didn't think would take me seriously. Or when I struggled to articulate something and was met with a blank stare.
The time I spoke up to my manager about being unhappy with my year's review. That I felt he had not given me credit for my hard work and that I wanted recognition for it. I shook the whole time I was delivering my speech and was terrified I would cry in front of him. He surprised me and responded respectfully and apologetically, and told me months later that my ferocity in that moment had been a little scary.
The day I sat in the therapist's office, across from my wife, and said that I didn't think I could continue our marriage. Those were possibly the hardest words I've ever said to someone. So necessary for me, so honest and raw, and so sure to cause her deep pain. I could only protect one of us and I chose, for once, myself.
The times I have struggled to speak clearly about my feelings and my needs to my partner. The times that in the distance between my tongue and his ear I realize that what I've said is wrong or incomplete or untrue and I say, "Wait, wait, let me try again." He always takes my words seriously, but so many times I'm still unable to make myself understood. I simply can't find the right words to hold my meaning.
Every time I have been telling some piece of my story to someone and I realize they aren't listening to me. Every time I'm interrupted mid-story and then the conversation moves on without me. Every time someone finishes my sentence for me because they think they know what I'm going to say and don't have the patience to let me finish.
Some of these memories give me courage - I was brave, I found words, they landed. I tried again, I persisted, there bloomed understanding. Others are more disheartening. Each time my words are cut off, disregarded, or unsatisfactory I get quieter. I say less, I am less brave. I feel words clattering against the back of my teeth and leave them there. It isn't until I find someone who gives me room, who listens hard, that I begin to unclench my jaw and let my words flow again. My life has been a seesaw of turning on and off the flow of my story.
King is right, the secret needs not a teller but an understanding ear.
How do you respond to this quote? I'd love to hear about it, here or at Kirsetin's blog!