“I lost my voice,” she said. “But I can still listen.”
Neither of us knew how to keep the conversation one-sided. So despite intentions to give her voice a break, our Skype chat soon reverted to the usual back-and-forth. My dear friend Jenn updated me about a few of the people we both love in New York, and new opportunities on her horizon; I processed some things that have been happening here in the Middle East.
When it was time for our next call, however, I received a text message instead. “Had to work late. Feeling terrible– still have no voice. I need to rest.”
Over the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to find my voice, either.
It’s been the fullest month since I came to the Middle East, as far as work and new experiences go. I shook hands with the city commissioner; brought our current Young Leaders students on their first “college visit” (at the university where I teach); just about burst with pride watching some of them do magic tricks and tell stories at an orphanage; and received multiple lessons in the art of dance.
I also helped take 50 teenaged boys on a day-long field trip; met over 300 local families, whose teenagers are interviewing for our UPCOMING Young Leaders program; made horrible mistakes in Arabic, and learned from them; and celebrated the Resurrection two weeks in a row (as this area celebrated a week after friends and family in the US).
Mostly, things have gone well. Mostly, the experiences have been a lot of fun. Mostly, the challenges have served to enhance the victories (for example, an accidental hike down a tougher path than we planned, on the boys’ field trip; or an unexpected rush of people crowding the center, to register for the new cohort of Young Leaders).
Mostly, I come home and think, I need to rest.
When I try to tell the stories, I am caught between my hope about work, life, and students… and my fears that hope may be deferred, my grief over promises from God that are yet to be fulfilled. I deeply feel the need for a second story perspective, but I can’t figure out how to take hold of it.
Stuck in uncertainty over whether I should celebrate like it is Resurrection Day, or embrace the grieving of Good Friday, I am silent. The words catch in my throat.
Picture the Emmaus pathway: Two men walking from Jerusalem, striving to understand what happened in the prior three days. When a Stranger asked what they were talking about, their response:
“They stood still, their faces downcast.” (Luke 24:17)
After a moment of silent struggle with his question, they threw down an inquiry of their own. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what happened?” The Stranger chose to walk along with them. Their story came out:
Their hope in the one called Jesus.
Their grief over his crucifixion.
Their confusion over visions of angels and empty graves.
Grief overflows even into their grammar; they relegate hope to the past tense. “… we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (v. 21)
Another dear friend– this one local– recently sat on my couch to update me on a situation in her life. “What can I do now?” she said. “My hope is gone.” She picked up a glass cup from the table, and asked me what the English word would be, were it to be broken into thousands of pieces.
She covered her eyes with one hand. I reached out for the other, inwardly reaching for the right things to say– reassuring phrases about her future, her personhood, her reason for confidence– but not finding any voice. After a few moments, she broke the silence.
“Can you give me a…”
I placed the tissues in her lap, striving to be helpful even before she could finish talking. “Thank you,” she answered. “But what I really need is a hug.”
Those men from the road to Emmaus had seen hope broken into 10,000 pieces. Then He was walking with them, but their faces were downcast, their minds wrestled with harsh realities, their hope was moved to the past tense– because they did not recognize that Presence beside them.
They were walking like it was still Good Friday, but didn’t know that it was Sunday, come to stay. Hope would now be present, continuous.
Losing my voice, unable to see past uncertainties, I need something more than articulate answers.
I need presence.
And an embrace.