I sat next to a beloved woman in synagogue.
She is wise and beautiful and I admire her.
I hope I grow to be like her in the years to come, poised, articulate and a true sage.
She lost her son years ago. We were talking about something and she said, “After he died I was quiet”.
“We went to a bereaved parent group, but we couldn’t talk. We had to be quiet.”
I looked at this strong, amazing person who I am in awe of, who is a leader in our community, and saw such strength in her simple quiet.
Quiet. I have been quiet lately.
Simply quiet. This is a big deal for someone who is loud like me.
The production of “Listen!” was so overwhelmingly successful that the follow up is massive. I sit in my office (Yes, I now have an office) trying to figure out how to thank the people who helped me, how to secure and raise the funds to be able to make this an annual event, how to produce the show in a way that it will have the most impact.
I sit and look at the pictures from “LISTEN” and I am speechless because of the beauty of it all and that it turned out the way it did.
So, I'm quiet, because in the face of grace there really isn’t anything to be but quiet.
I started two new groups back to back in two girls’ detention facilities.
Last week I performed ‘Flowers Aren’t Enough’ for them, my one-woman show on domestic violence. The girls in Juvie are always an amazing audience. The silence is always remarkable. Amazing what can happen when you engage people and treat them with respect.
“Man, Ms., you were in the zone,” one commented after.
“You put me there” I answered.
In one facility we meet in the gym. In the other they are short on staff so, I am in the facility meeting room, situated next to the offices, not the best place to be but it is what it is.
This room has a big glass window so that you can see in.
This is the room where the girls get special visits.
This is where they are assessed.
This is where young moms see their babies.
This is where I hold space for them.
No probation officers sit with me in the room. They just periodically watch through the glass, give me a stern look, and check that all is okay. Sometimes they don’t bother even to do that.
I start the show. I watch Probation carefully as they watch the girls through the glass. They are amused by my wig, intrigued by what I am doing and, when I gaze in their direction, I see the astonishment and amazement at what is going on.
I am acting. The girls are watching. There was something very calm, intense and quiet.
The girls were silent.
I see the probation officer call over the social worker. They are both watching now. Then they call over a third person.
I see them trying to figure out what I am doing. One gives me a thumbs-up.
This group is wonderful; actually I have two brilliant groups.
Again - Amazing what can happen when you engage people and treat them with respect.
When we finish, the girls walk from where we were toward the dining hall for dinner.
As they were leaving the building we were in, one of the probation guards started yelling at them.
Who knows what they did? Maybe they laughed too loud. Maybe the line wasn’t straight. Maybe someone touched someone in a way she shouldn’t have. Whatever.
Her yelling was so dramatically different from the quiet we had just experienced.
We were all a little jolted.
One of the other officers said, “What is she yelling about? What is going on?”
Then a different PO said, “Maybe she needs help.”
“I’ll go out and see.” He runs out. You would think there was a fire.
One girl was still standing next to me.
She leaned over to me and said, “They don't know how to let us be.”
I shrugged and knew I had to watch my words since there were four probation officers standing around me.
She laughed out loud and teased the probation officer.
“It’s scary when we are quiet, huh? You just have to yell at us, huh?”
Oy, I hate when the girls start up with Probation. It’s like playing with fire and is truly dangerous.
“She held you tight in there,” the probation officer says.
“You were all so quiet. Never seen you like that. What was she talking about? Must have been good!”
Oy, oy! I am thinking, “Don’t get me involved!”
And my girl says, “Yes, she was interesting as fuck.”
I am quiet.
Actually, I am silent. I have learned to be very carful in the presence of the probation officers. Some have humor. Some really don’t.
They all have too much power over the girls and anyone who comes to work in the facilities.
I am new in this facility. I walk on eggshells.
I have been the object of the wrath of the power of probation.
It isn’t pleasant.
I choose my battles carefully.
In a heartbeat I could loose my access to the girls.
“Man, you had them eating out of your hand!” the probation officer adds.
Ironically, I so want to bring them food and snacks and I am not allowed. I had a really sassy remark ready to answer back, but I smile instead and say, “That is the power of theater.”
I wonder if this PO ever went to see a play.
The probation officers don’t like me.
I am everything they think they can’t be.
And I am not at all what they assume I am, because of the color of my skin, and the way I dress or conduct my self.
I have accepted that and decided long ago to stay quiet unless I see something I MUST speak up about.
Not how I walk through life, but how I must walk through Probation.
The girl next to me squeezed my arm, and then she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You are nice to us and you smell real good so we like you. That’s why we are quiet, Ms.”
“I know,” I say.
Both the groups I have are outstanding and, for the first time in 6 years, I do not have to win their trust. I don’t have to work to get them to cooperate with me.
They are present and shockingly on board with the program
My prayers have been heard.
I think about something my spectacular rabbi said the same day I was talking to my sweet friend about quiet.
“We pray not because it is our prayer that will change or fix something. We pray because the prayer awakens us to engage in the kind of moral action that we will need in order for change to happen.”
You have no idea how much I pray for these girls, for my program, for funding, for peace! I pray and pray and pray.
I think about what she said. I love my rabbi so.
And I think about quiet.
About being quiet.
Sometimes for change to happen we just need to be quiet and let it happen.
Stand strong with conviction and let the winds of change blow.
“Ms.” She looked at me and stood there very quiet.
“Of course I’ll be here next week.” I look right at her.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I listened to your quiet,” I answered.
Sometimes, my friends, you need to listen to the quiet.
I pray that in 2017 we take action, speak less and do so much more.
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