From a very young age I learned the difference between being seen, verses being heard. I discovered that unless I open my mouth to say something people will assume what I am thinking just by looking at me.
This realization hit me one day when I was perhaps 6 or 7 years of age. I was at a family function desperately wanting to play with this one girl. But being painfully shy, I had my back turned to her in pretense that I didn't care.
As I stood there wishing she would come up and talk to me, I heard an adult ask her to go play with me. I smiled privately... excited and hopeful.
However her response is one I will never forget.
No, she doesn't want to play with me. Look... she's got her back to me!
My heart skipped a beat.
My face dropped as the earth shattering realization engulfed me.
My actions just stole from me a chance to play. They had silenced my inner voice making my true feelings invisible.
I had been seen, but not heard.
Fast forward 40-something years and what amazes me is I still struggle with this. With speaking up and sharing my thoughts. I still worry about rejection, what other people might think, still seeking acceptance, approval, permission. And to be honest, it's an exhausting way to live.
Personally I'm ready to care a little less, and to let go.
Which bit by bit, I am working on...
Last month for example I decided to shake things up, leap out of my comfort zone and experiment with being heard in front of a group of 380 people. I'd heard good things about the Good Life Project's summer camp for adults and thought why not? How difficult could it be?
Well. Me on day two...
Curled in fetal position on the bottom bunk, red eyed and sniveling, cell phone pressed to my ear whispering in hushed, barely audible tones. My poor husband on the other end making valiant attempts to comfort me.
This happened to be a "not so proud" moment triggered by my 6-year old inner child convincing me that no one wanted to play. I guess some things never change.
But camp wasn't all sadness. In fact it all ended on a personal high note for me.
Day three. The Talent Show...
No matter how much the idea terrified me, I knew it was important that I got up on that stage and faced an audience. No more hiding or turning my back.
Clutching my original piece of prose I sat in the audience waiting my turn. Popping mints one after the other, my heart pounded louder and LOUDER the closer it got. It was like sitting on a speeding train with my stop fast approaching! But when it came time for me to stand at the foot of the stage, with just minutes to spare, rather than hyperventilate I managed to find comfort in repeating one simple line to myself.
You are not doing this for you, Ruth.
Over and over, I calmly and firmly convinced myself that someone out there needed to hear my words... my inner voice. That it was time.
I then walked on stage, stood in front of the microphone, and read my piece aloud. My heart no longer pounding, my hands steady, my voice speaking with unusual determination and strength. It was a strange feeling, like I had given myself purpose.
Like I had something of value to say. Something worth sharing. Something that could possibly touch others, maybe even help them feel less alone. More connected perhaps?
I know one thing for sure, that night I felt more connected to myself and every other human in that room. And it felt good.
Good to finally be seen and heard!
Something I'd definitely like to try more often.
*The words to my original prose, titled "I'm Incubating", are published here and a video recording of my live reading can be viewed publicly on Facebook.