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Safe People & Silence

At various times in my life, I have been called difficult to know, "closed," an ice queen, a brick wall, intimidating and other related things. This has deeply bothered me.

A few years ago, one of my closest friends went through an incredibly difficult situation. As I walked with her through some dark days, I wrestled with how much to ask about the source of her pain. I knew little about the specifics that had brought her here, and wondered how to be supportive when I didn't know what had gone awry.

But then I realized something. What made me a safe person for her was, I think, not only that she could tell me anything without fear of judgment, but that she could also tell me nothing without fear of judgment. Our friendship is such that we recognize and respect the space between us, and we don't have to know every detail of every little story to love or be loved. Although there are plenty of little details and many many stories we do share!

My point is this; in a culture that celebrates vulnerability, transparency, and personal stories (and often rightly so; the voices of the outliers, marginalized, oppressed and transgressed ought to be given space and applauded), I think it is easy for us to become uncomfortable with silence or holes in our knowledge of another person.

Yet as Henri Nouwen writes:
There is something beautiful about shyness, even though in our culture shyness is not considered a virtue. On the contrary, we are encouraged to be direct, look people straight in the eyes, tell them what is on our minds, and share our stories without a blush. But this unflinching soul-baring confessional attitude quickly becomes boring. It is like trees without shadows. Shy people have long shadows, where they keep much of their beauty hidden from intruders' eyes. Shy people remind us that the mystery of life that cannot be simply explained or expressed. They invite us to reverent and respectful friendships and to a wordless being together in love. 

As I think about the safest, closest people in my life, I know that this is true. What makes me feel safe with them is not only the freedom to say absolutely anything, but also the freedom to say absolutely nothing.

Sometimes, reverent and respectful friendships demand silence. Sometimes the safest, most loving thing we can do is expect no words at all. 


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