To Hear One’s Voice

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Ken and I spent the morning sharing readings and ideas.

He cut out an article to read about an Australian woman writing about her grandmother who was a refugee from wartime Europe in 1939… and of being the guardian of her grandmother’s jewelry and archives. Burglars got the jewelry. The archives remain.

I too have archives and artifacts that I am responsible for. I am struck with the dilemma of being the hinge generation. In her case, the generation that experienced the Holocaust are nearly gone. This woman in the article has inherited an imperative to represent this past, to prevent this history from crystallizing into myth. How does one do that?

I think, oddly, about how making bread or a holiday recipe is a way to connect with family history. My mother taught me to do this in such a manner and her mother taught her, etc. Also, at the Passover Seder we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and we say “our fathers told us this.” And, of course, their fathers told them, etc.

I then read to Ken a passage from a book I was reading about the power of liminal moments. These threshold moments are soul moments, the author says. I think he means that they are crucial to who we become. The door opens; the door closes; the hinge is both here and there and in neither place. It facilitates that threshold moment. Isn’t that we we are talking about?

And suddenly, out of nowhere, a phrase comes to mind: “C’est ridicule.”

This was my father’s judgmental catch phrase. Sometimes it was aimed outwards at life’s clearly silly, ridiculous events. But sometimes it was aimed at me.

Ken and I went on talking and sharing ideas. They flowed off my tongue. I felt the ease with which they formed themselves into cogent sentences as I heard myself speak. Why, I even inspired myself! Then I knew what he would say: “Go write these thoughts down. Take a moment.”

But, I knew I could not. I explained that speaking rather than writing brings out something…like the creative tension of being onstage and having to produce sound in a composed and persuasive manner. The instant, the very moment of reacting with words, to whatever is being said, read or presented, is potent… and then lost.

I added that there are two levels I can discern.

One, is to have an insight and to think: “Wow, that was really sharp, interesting, and even useful.”

And, two, which I hesitate to share with anyone, is that there is a secret place in me that wishes for a larger audience–perhaps to be able to help others with my experience and insights… or less humbly, to be known as someone with certain …je ne s’ais quoi… wisdom?

Ah ha, this must be where “C’est ridicule” comes in.

I can’t seem to get from the deep, interesting conversation to placing those same ideas on paper. Why is that threshold, that liminal moment so hard to cross? Enforced modesty or humility has its price. Don’t be ridiculous, Jane. “They all know better, are smarter, are well-known…who are you to speak at all?” This old message took it’s toll. Way back in high school, in college and even later, my knees would visibly, and even audibly shake as I waited my turn to ask a question in public. Time and repeated experience let me observe that my questions were valued, useful, even hoped for.

But, here I am unable to recreate on paper what flowed from my brain to my lips just an hour ago.

I know, it’s enough that I had the thought. The thinking of the thought is enough, isn’t it? Ken heard me, and importantly, I heard me. Speaking aloud is so definitive. Thinking can be so amorphous. Forming words, forming sentences… syntax has a force that is underestimated by everyone. But when I speak, I can see whether my words have reached their mark, have changed a mind, have struck a note. Who even thinks about what I just wrote?

And now, the years have collected and I sense how my words need space on paper to be recorded and read later. We all are the hinge generation. Only we can transmit what we “know” or have heard from earlier generations. If I have something to share, it will have to be on paper, because my time is… well, not timeless. I had forgotten. No, I had never even thought of that. I will not hear my voice in future years—not the actual voice. It will be someone else’s voice I do not hear. It will be in the voice of the reader. And there is a strange, strange thought.

I will have to write about it, of course.