Carol Brennan King August 6, 2020
“Sit still and be quiet.” I don’t know when I first heard those words, but I think it must have come when I was very young. I imagine perhaps when I was three. Things were different back then, and maybe only this kind of different in small towns. My mother was off to have the new baby. I don’t know why, but my sister, just then finishing ninth grade since it was June, won the short stick and took me to high school with her that day. I remember sitting next to her and feeling like a big kid, being given paper to color or write on (I was three, a nice lot of writing I would do), and probably being told “Sit still and be quiet.”
Funny as I do my best to remember that day, I only remember that one class. It was in the same room I took biology in ten or twelve years later. I always loved biology. But back to the “Sit still and be quiet thing…” If I know my sister at all well, she probably toted along a pile of my little books, books she had read to me so often I could read them by myself, or at least say out loud the words on each page because I knew them “by heart.”
So, if you have to “sit still and be quiet” a lot, what do you do? You think. You go places in your head. You rehearse past injustices (being honest here) and remembered or anticipated joys, depending on which holiday had just passed or was to come.
I don’t know if that day had anything to do with it or not, but I was always the kid who didn’t mind sitting still, especially if I had a book, the bigger, the better, and a quiet place to read it. And I was also the kid who was known to cry for an hour, silently in my room, when the beloved book was over.
When the silence gets long enough, and there are no books to fill it, or the silence makes you think of things not fun, you have to find a way to manage it, the silence that is, find a way to fill it that makes it better. For me, that was the reverse of reading, it was making reading. It was finding paper and writing those thoughts into images someone else might recognize even though those images were not laid down for anybody special that I knew of just then.
I never minded sitting still and being quiet as long as there was something to read or a writing implement at hand and some piece of paper, even the backside of an envelope has worked well for me now that I am the mom, not the kid.
After all of these years, I have finally put words to it, this thing about my writing. I have to find a way to get the feelings and the images in my head out, so I can put them in some kind of order, sort them out, consider them, understand them, and paper works best for that process.
I write about people you cannot see but who once were. I write about sounds that once filled the silent-now forest or plaza or beach or house. I write about the pain that some other woman felt because I can feel it too, like the death of her child a hundred and fifty years ago. Or the death of a mother I did not know until I wrote down her words, words she penned or penciled on tablets, and napkins, and notebooks before she died. I never met her, but I had her photo on my desk for weeks while I worked on that project, inhabiting her memories. I promised her I would do my best to order them, so her family would know that though she fought the cancer as long as she could, she simply did not have enough left to fight it one more day. That brought her great grief, for the pain she knew they would bear.
Would I like someone else to read the pages I write when I am sitting still and being quiet? Honestly, yes, if it their request rings true. Yes, if in some small way, it speaks comfort into their silence. Yes, if it eases their path. And yes, if she can walk away and say, “If she can do it, maybe I can too.”