"Thou know'st the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry." – Lear
That's actually true. Your voice is usually one of the very first physical marks you make in coming into the world. My daughter gasped and sighed without much crying – she being a brave kid -- but the voice was there. And so it goes without saying that we use our voice pretty regularly from our very first moment.
So it came as a shock to this aging guy when not long ago I took quiet.
The story why I gave up all sound from the throat is easily told. My beloved daughter brings home a wide variety of "pets" from daycare. The positive thing about this situation is that this heady brew of viral and bacterial infections builds her immune system into steely strength. Being a generous child, she shares these visitors with me, leaving me with a steady stream of upper respiratory invasion. A particularly nasty bug after the holidays left me with a nasty case of laryngitis. On a Thursday I taught three courses and then rehearsed the Storm Scene from King Lear that evening. I could barely croak by the end. I've had laryngitis before, but not like this. It felt different.
So along with the antibiotics, I took a long weekend of complete vocal rest. Nada. Finito. Done. No speaking, no whispering, no humming, no laughter, nothing.
It's not a huge deal, but the big fiftieth birthday is walking down the avenue of my life, edging daily closer to joining up with me -- the slow but sure promenade of the half-century mark. It's not unreasonable to suggest that after nearly 50 years of more than average use, the pipes deserved a few days off.
And the quiet did produce odd results.
There's no opportunity to give that quick, funny rejoinder to the passing comment. Writing it down on the card takes too long, and the timing is ruined for humor. The joke passed. You couldn't make funny noises to entertain. And my two-year-old daughter was in no shape to read any notes I might write for her.
So, my "voice" was stilled in more ways than one.
I did the best I could. I tried to communicate my love for my daughter through my eyes when she went to bed. Despite the Old-Testament-Prophet beard, I worked to make sure my face was as animated as my old face can be.
Luckily the people in my life respond with great kindness. The woman at the grocery store clucked with understanding at the card I handed her with a written request for the sandwich meats. The colleagues at work, the family, the one-off encounter with this or that neighbor – all nodded appreciatively when I pointed to my throat and shook my head.
I wish I could now say that these days of quiet led to an earth-shaking realization that transformed my life, and now (for a very small figure) with my help you too can experience this life-changing event in the privacy of your own home!
I wish I could say that, but I can't.
Folks with hearing disabilities live in a world verging on quiet already. It's part of the pattern of their lives, and they get on with it. Some might even find it insulting for me to suggest that sometimes going without talk can be useful. We all knew that. Nothing new there.
Likewise, nothing new in expressing appreciation for the many inarticulate hums, grunts, chuckles, chortles, squeaks, snarls, and noises that we make in the course of a day.
So, the E-N-T doctor looked inside that the vocal folds. No polyp, thank goodness. Some visibility of a blood vessel on my left fold, but no more than that. So the vocal rest came at just the right time. Probably.
My voice is better. Thanks for asking.
And rehearsals continue for Lear. I should be able to make it through with a voice, which is usually a good thing if you're doing Shakespeare.
So nothing earth-shaking. Nothing particularly new in expressing admiration at the little kindnesses that make a day worth getting through. The small generosities that most people afford us each day. These kindnesses and generosities betray a humanity that sees frailty and doesn't seek to exploit or mock it.
But when you're working on a play that exhibits the worst of what humanity can do to each other, the simple decency of most folks can seem like a priceless gift.
And that's worth talking about.