The Silent Scream
Sunday, August 5, 2012
With my kids in the lake on a daily basis, I was reviewing once again the rules for swimming safety. And if you are like me, once you get started on one possible disaster, you find yourself reading about a variety of possible disasters. So drowning led to choking, and so on.
In addition to learning the warning signs and what to do, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I discovered a fascinating connection that most of these extremely dangerous and deadly situations have in common . . . silence.
In almost every scenario that I read about, the true sign that extreme danger was at hand was when the victim made no noise. In the case of drowning, a victim does not shout for help and wave his arms frantically; rather, the one drowning makes no noise at all and appears passive, doing not much of anything. Not to say that a person screaming does not need help, but that person is not actually drowning if able to scream.
The same is true with choking. If one is coughing, gagging, making noise . . . you are to leave them alone. They are in the process of trying to work out what is blocking the airway. But they are not completely blocked, or there wouldn’t be any noise. What is most dangerous, and what requires immediate intervention, is when the person is silent.
I have been thinking about this a lot. How dangerous silence can be. We all joke that we know our kids are getting into trouble when they are too quiet. Kids should make noise, and if they don’t, they are probably up to something. But in so many other situations we mistake quiet for being fine, when in truth it could be the biggest proof of a problem. We can be shocked to discover that the quiet kid is depressed or, G‑d forbid, took his life. He was always so well behaved! He never said anything! But he was saying something, we just weren’t listening. His silence was saying it all.
When someone can scream for help, be it in a pool, a restaurant or a classroom, that kid needs help. But the fact that he is screaming means he is much better off than the one who can no longer scream. The one who no longer wants to scream. When it comes to those around us, we need to learn how to hear what isn’t being said.
We are in the month of Av, the most difficult of all the months of the Jewish calendar. The month that represents death and destruction, yet also provides the basis and opportunity for renewal and growth. According to Kabbalah (Arizal’s commentary on Sefer Yetzirah), each month in the Jewish calendar has its own “sense” which is most prevalent in that month. The month of Av is the month of hearing. Each month is also represented by a Hebrew letter, and the letter for this month is tet, which is the concept of something hidden. Inherent in this month, then, is being able to hear what is hidden.
It is easy to focus on the kid who is acting out and screaming for attention. And it is easy to ignore the quiet, well-behaved kid who is not making any trouble. But often we need to do the opposite. We can’t assume that if trouble is happening, we will hear it. Rather, we must look around and see who isn’t making any noise, and try to figure out why not. Because sometimes it is the one not saying a word who is begging to be heard. And if we listen to the silence, it might just tell us a lot.
THE SILENT SCREAM
October 12, 2012 by momsfirstscreenn