Sunday, September 18, 2011

They Put Tape Over My Mouth When I Was Little................

 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

When I was a young girl, I was a real chatter box. I was a bundle of energy, constantly talking- about anything and everything. I would follow my mom around the house all day, pestering her with questions.  I remember her asking me if I could just try to be quiet for five minutes. She always offered some kind of reward to keep my mouth shut-- a cookie, ice cream, a piece of candy. I tried so hard to give my mother some peace but I was never successful. After about thirty seconds, I would burst into tears because I just couldn't shut up! I had so much to say and so many questions I needed answered.

When I went to school, it was the same thing. I always had something to talk about, something to share with everyone else. And my questions never stopped.  I had to know why: why are we doing it this way? Why are we reading this book today? Why do we have to use that color construction paper?  Eventually, my teacher became so frustrated, that every morning when I arrived to class, she placed a piece of masking tape over my mouth. I was not allowed to talk at all.  Evidently, my reputation as a chatter-box preceded me each time I was promoted to the next grade. On the first day of school, my new teacher had already been warned.  In addition to new pencils and books to start the new school year, I was also handed a roll of tape. I knew the drill.  Every morning, I had to rip off a piece of it and cover my mouth. If I wanted to stay in class, I had no choice.

You might be shocked at all this, but back then, it was the 1960's. This was when it was actually okay to spank disobedient children in school. Teachers were disciplinarians in those days and while my behavior certainly did not deserve a beating,  the tape over my mouth was a perfectly acceptable punishment and a means of control. In this day and age, it would be considered abuse and the teacher would be severely reprimanded. My parents were aware but they did nothing to stop it. Teacher knew best.

I could have mumbled right through the tape or disobediently ripped it off if I really wanted to, but I never did. It was the sheer humiliation of sitting day after day with my mouth taped shut and the teasing I endured from fellow class-mates that kept me silent. Eventually, I mastered the art of shutting up and when I graduated to the forth grade, the tape was no longer necessary.

I am sure there were alternative measures my teachers and parents could have taken other than the masking tape method. Perhaps I could have been steered in the direction of sports, dance lessons, acting classes, school chorus or other extra-curricular activities- some kind of outlet. There wasn't much to choose from back then and no one ever suggested anything to me or my parents.  After-school programs didn't really exist (mothers didn't work back then so there was no need) and only rich girls took dance lessons. Everyone took the easy way out. Tape her mouth shut, we have peace and quiet, and no harm done.  In this day and age, I probably would have been diagnosed with ADD and given drugs to calm me down and keep me quiet. Who knows? I was simply a child with a desperate need to express myself and seek answers to all my questions. I was never satisfied with yes or no or a simple explanation. I needed more than that. I still do.

I discovered creative writing at an early age as a way to express myself since no one really wanted me to talk. I created little fantasy worlds and wrote about them. My teachers loved this about me but other people were not so enthusiastic. I was perfectly content to sit in my room and read and write. This was considered a bad thing. I didn't talk much anymore (which was what everyone wanted) but now I was out of touch with reality and forced to get outside and play. Eventually I stopped writing, too. The well just dried up and I had nothing to say. Nothing--not even on paper.

I learned to keep my mouth shut. If I talked, that meant I was bad and I would be punished or humiliated. As a result, I grew up to be a very quiet, compliant, flexible person. That's okay for some people but I was to the extreme. I talked but usually when I was spoken to or asked a direct question. Even then, I said what everyone told me to say. I expressed myself exactly the ways others expected.  I never voiced a thought, an opinion,  a like or dislike that differed from anyone else. I never expressed my needs or concerns and didn't dare raise my voice, defend myself (or anyone else), or argue with anyone about anything.  And I didn't ask questions, even when my heart was breaking over injustices I witnessed all around me. Everyone thought I was so good and so spiritual. I wasn't really any of those things. I was miserable. That roll of masking tape was a distant memory but every day I still slapped that big old piece of tape right over my mouth.  It was a habit and if I forgot, I knew there was always someone around to remind me.  You see, when I grew up, I made sure I had plenty of people standing by waving that roll of masking tape just in case I forgot.  Just like that little girl in school who wanted to stay in the classroom, I so desperately wanted to remain comfortable and accepted. The only way to do that was to keep my mouth shut.

Something awful happens to a person when they are forced to shut up or feel the need to constantly censor or silence themselves. They begin to die a slow and painful death. I often wonder how many people out there who are considered so agreeable and easy going are only that way because they are afraid to speak up or be different. If I were to ask what they really think or feel, what would they say?

I have since found my voice again and I speak it. I write it. It took alot of time, effort and healing to reach this point in my life. I am almost half a century old already. Do I really want to live the rest of my life in silence? There are things that matter and are important. If they matter to me, they must matter to someone else, too.  I can't possibly be the only one who feels this way!

It's okay to talk. It's okay to express yourself and ask questions. Eventually, you'll find someone with the answers. But you will never find those answers if you don't ask. What was done to me as a little girl is sad but I have no one to blame but myself for allowing it to continue into adulthood. Thankfully, I still have time left to get my word in edge-wise or seek answers to all my questions.  And I refuse to allow anyone to censor me! I have to express myself and if people don't like me or reject me as a result, that's their problem, not mine.

This freedom of expression does not give me license to plow all over everyone else, however. It is never a good thing to insult, hurt, humiliate or reveal the shortcomings of another person in order to get my point across. That's wrong and I don't want to do that. Sometimes I pick and choose my battles. There are times things are just not worth arguing about because someone is going to get hurt.  I no longer wear tape across my mouth but I do make sure I have a filter in place every day. The filter is love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13: 1 -8

Speak up and speak out. Express yourself. Never be silent about things that matter to you or anyone else. Even if it sounds ridiculous, say it anyway. If you don't, you will die a slow and painful death. There might be one person who needs to hear what you have to say, the way only you can say it.  Just be sure to filter everything with love and you will never have to worry about hurting another living soul.

And this is my Daily Cyn...............

No comments:

Post a Comment