In the latest newsletter of On Being, we were ask the question What do I need to say? in the context of a famous Audre Lorde’s speech given in 1977. Here’s On Being reflection and my answer.
Here’s the context…
The Pause – On Being
In 1977, writer and activist Audre Lorde had to undergo surgery to remove a tumor. Though doctors eventually determined that the tumor was benign, the weeks leading up to her surgery were a time of deep reflection for her. She talks about this in a now-famous speech:
“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my own mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for in my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid?”
I was first introduced to this quote in Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s book The Way of Tenderness and was reminded of it after listening to Krista’s conversation with Eula Biss on whiteness, which we are re-airing this week. In the episode, Eula Biss helpfully articulates a truth about the silence around this topic: “If you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something.”
Listening to the episode, I was brought back to Audre Lorde’s quote — which talks about silence in the context of her experience as a black woman. In speaking her truth, much was at stake: “the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps of judgment, of pain, of death.” Though they are talking about breaking silence in different contexts, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Biss’s words and what Lorde calls the “transformation of silence into language and action.” As Lorde writes:
“In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.”
There is something universally terrifying about this transformation. It involves trust and a painful level of vulnerability. For Lorde, though, articulating these truths — making them visible — is at the heart of what it means to live in courageous and deep connection with others.
I’ll leave you with the questions Audre Lorde asks of us in her speech: “What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say?”
As always, I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on these questions — you can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor, On Being Studios
and here’s my answer
What do I need to say?
The question preceding What do I need to say? would be for me now, What do I need to become?, since there was, and there still is so little embodiment out there of what I am going through as a gender non-binary disable being.
Each of those components were almost totally invisible in the culture where and when I grew up that they were not on my radar as I was mapping my adulthood. Invisible or wrapped in a fog of ignorance, which was translated too often into harming prejudices.
So what do I need to become?
When I turned into a grandmother, not long ago, I felt the necessity to upgrade my system after years of isolation forced by two chronic diseases with, in the background, a complex trauma. But to my surprise, my intention to face reality for what it is, in the context of my spiritual path, brought me to the very down to earth realm of the marginalized, the laissé.es-pour-compte, the abused, the exploited, the colonized, the discriminated, people and nature included.
Showing up where these challenging topics were manifesting, I was introduced to movements I wasn’t aware of and gain a vocabulary that I didn’t know existed. A vocabulary, and with it, a deeper understanding of the sufferings and struggles at stake. I even had to commit to another language, English, to be part of the conversation, a conversation that wasn’t going on, at the depth I needed, in my own Québécois culture. Or so little.
Now that I have learned to better name, describe, reflect and comment, to better bridge the personal and the political regarding what I have gone through,- the lost of my body, my sleep, my income, the ability of taking care of my young son who is now a grown man, the suicide of my father, my brother and my own attempt 20 years ago, all those lasting impacts of the sexual abuse, the violence and the negligence I was put through as a child – I have to become, or should I say, to own the skills, the patterns, the decisions, the beliefs, the practices I have integrated to stay alive, breathing, praying, moving, healing and creating.
Then what do I need to say?
In essence and details, how changes have happen so that from living in a nightmare, I have now a renewed sense of dignity. A transformation that was radically link to the upgraded and/or new ways, emerging in the collective sphere, to create profound and lasting changes.
And how to address our addiction… “to add more and more stuff, stealing more and more from the Earth” (Marion Woodman -The Addicted World) and to be grateful for the Life that we were given. For the Earth, the birds, the waters, the people – who have always taken care of us -, for All there is who keep rocking me, you, them back into love and loving.