I stumbled across a quote in a coffee shop last week:
”Maybe it’s what we don’t say that saves us.”
— Dorianne Laux, What We Carry.
It was striking, written with white chalk on a simple black background. I’d heard it before, wondered at its meaning, felt connected to it somehow. This time I studied the chicken-scratch handwriting, the way the chalk was slightly smeared. What we don’t say. How could the words we don’t say be the words that save us?
I spun this quote around in my mind for a moment. I used to wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes in the absence of words, you find clarity. You realize that not saying anything says, unconsciously, exactly what you need to. You realize that the words in your heart, on your mind, might not need to be said. And when you don’t say them—you find the truth.
But I can’t agree with that anymore.
See, it’s what we do say that saves us.
The words we bring to life on paper or from our lips, the timid and nervous confessions, the brittle anger that slips from our tongue, the lines of thanks, the good and the bad and the honest—this is what makes us real. This is what makes us connect to one another. This is what changes our lives.
What we say brings us closer together. We acknowledge our inner feelings, we confront our fears, we take chances, we fall in love.
What we say shows us that we’re not the only one feeling this way. What we say helps us to confront what we’ve attempted to keep hidden. What we say allows us to open ourselves to one another, to build relationships, to put ourselves in vulnerable positions that lead to incredible growth.
The words that we don’t say? The words we keep pressed under our tongues, what we bite back and hold hostage in our brains and mouths? Those words destroy us. Those words keep us from doing things we believe in, keep us from following our dreams, keep us from kissing our love onto the lips of the people we so desperately need.
What we don’t say slowly eats us from the inside out. It makes us prisoners to our own minds. It keeps us static, hesitant, guarded. It makes us weak.
So it isn’t what we don’t say that frees us, that saves us. It’s the words that we acknowledge, that we let escape—those are what rescue us. From the world. From ourselves.
I am a writer, and so I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid to take the words rumbling around in my mind and set them free, breathe them to life on pages and through keyboards.
It is the words I do say that give me clarity, that connect me to people, even those I haven’t met. It is the words I do say that remind me how we’re all searching, all looking for people and things to connect to.
It is the words we say that save us. That let us know we’re never, ever alone.