Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 11/12/2009 [Archive]

Martha's Big Adventure - The Observer

Martha's Big Adventure -- The Observer

By Martha Randolph Carr

The ability to communicate at all times and in all places has become such an integral part of being an American that temporarily not being able to speak can make an interesting perch to view the world.

We chat on the phone with someone a country away while walking to the train and keep the conversation going as we squeeze on between strangers. Or we tell intimate details of our life to our coworkers and then our family and maybe even the manicurist.

As a country, we love to talk about everything all day long.

I'm no exception, however for a little while the kibosh has been put on my ability to answer back with my usual clever banter. I've been silenced by doctor's orders.

The last surgery for early-stage melanoma on my chin has left me with a pressure bandage and under Dr. Yoo's instructions to be absolutely silent for a week. I started to feel itchy before he left the room. I wanted to thank him and let him know that normally I'm much more charming and don't ask the same questions over and over again.

It was just that every time I looked at the open wound in my bathroom mirror for a week whenever I changed the bandage I couldn't see how they could close that sucker without rearranging certain parts of my face. So, I may have reiterated that a few times.

However, I never got the chance to make up for it by saying something clever when it was all over and I could finally take in a deep breath. I had to be quiet and just watch him sail out of the room and imagine what he was thinking. That was lesson number one.

It's going to have to be okay that I was nervous and had trouble absorbing information after two bouts of cancer. In other words, I'm going to have to let go of babysitting others for at least a week.

Lesson number two started when I went to a large meeting where I knew quite a few of the people attending but I couldn't say a word to any of them.

Everyone felt compelled to fill in the spaces but it was how they did it that made me aware of how much we demonstrate some deep parts of our personality if only we were listening. It was like I became a living Rorschach test.

A few people told me what was going on at home and went on at length about what was worrying them. That must be their constant inner dialogue. Some insisted on asking me questions anyway and I did my best to answer or just stared at them till they got the message. This was the group most likely to pantomime the answers back to me as well. I played along.

A third group noted the present conditions, commented on it and then moved on to someone else who could converse back with them. But to a person, no one wanted to just stand next to me in the silence. It's as if we have lost the ability to not speak when we are with someone else.

The last lesson, so far anyway, is how difficult it was for me to let go of the comments I had in my head. I wanted to show what I knew on the topic or make some funny joke or at least give feedback. I noticed, though, that everyone went on with their lives just fine without my input.

What I'm catching on to is that maybe it would be possible to be present and just observe rather than constantly looking for an opening. The truth is, I couldn't really ever be listening if a good part of my brain is always searching for a chance to show off.

Now, it hasn't escaped my attention that after the first round of surgery I couldn't walk for awhile and after the second I can't speak for awhile. In both cases I've had to slow down, ask for help and be in the moment a lot more. The biggest reward has been that I've learned friends and neighbors show up just because you need help and not because you somehow earned it. They even stick around and keep you company and it doesn't matter if they have to do all the talking . More adventures to follow.

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