Use Writing to Express the Silence

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Photo by Jim LaBate

How many times have you heard someone say the following phrase about an unusual or exhilarating experience: “I can’t put it into words”? Poet Edgar Lee Masters said basically the same thing in his poem entitled “Silence.” His main idea is that some experiences or situations can’t be expressed verbally in words, yet he uses written words in his poem to express that thought. And therein lies the beauty of writing. Writing is a way to express the silent moments of our lives.

Some of the examples that Masters mentions in his poem are the “silence of the sick, the silence of a great hatred or a great love, a deep peace of mind, an embittered friendship, and a spiritual crisis.” He also mentions the “silence of defeat, of those unjustly punished, of the dying, of those who have failed, and the silence of age.” Have you experienced any of those silences? I know I have.

I think most of my silent moments have occurred when I’ve needed to say “good-bye.” For example, at age 21, when I left my family to work in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, I couldn’t speak at the airport’s departure gate. I didn’t know what to say, and I’m sure I couldn’t have said it anyway.

Two years later, I thought it would be easy to hop on another plane to come home. Yet, before I left the small town of Golfito, where I’d taught and coached the village’s teenagers, I got choked up again. A busload of those students came to the airport to say good-by to me, and even though I knew I’d probably never see any of them again, I could only hug each one and try my best not to break into tears.

Fortunately, those speechless moments stay with us for a long while, and with time and meditation, we can eventually put our experiences into writing. When I witnessed the birth of our first daughter, Maria, for instance, I was overwhelmed by the miracle of her appearance in the delivery room. I tried to absorb it all because I knew I couldn’t speak. Later that evening, I described her birth to my parents and my extended family members, and later, I wrote a short poem about her arrival called “Maria Christina”:

“Miraculous baby. Miraculous birth.

Miraculous mother. Miraculous mirth.

Miraculous moment. Miraculous wife.

Miraculous miracle. Miraculous.


Naturally, after we brought Maria home, I experienced so much more with her, and I recall playing with her, dressing her, feeding her, burping her, walking with her, singing to her, and, finally, setting her in her crib for a nap or a night’s rest. The one experience I recall most vividly, though, is when she would fall asleep in my arms.

I experienced such a lightness when she finally let go of her tears or her exhaustion, and even though I could put her down at that point, I didn’t want to let go of that warm sensation. Thus, whether I was walking with her or sitting in the rocker with her, I would often just hold on and experience that tender silence, what Masters called the “silence of a deep peace of mind.” Eventually, I put words to my feeling, and I wrote this short poem entitled “Sleeping in My Arms.”

From the mountains to the valleys,

From the cities to the farms,

Nothing is more soothing

Than you sleeping in my arms.

You can silence all the cannons,

Turn off all alarms.

Nothing is more peaceful

Than you sleeping in my arms.

I’d give up all possessions,

All money, luck, and charms

To experience this moment

With you sleeping in my arms.

So will you experience moments that you will find difficult to “put into words”? Of course, you will. Life is full of moments that we cannot absorb fully as they occur. Thus, we are left to simply experience them, to hold on to them, to reflect upon them, and, when we are ready, to write them down. Writing is the only way to express the silent moments of our lives.

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Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.

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