It was my turn to cook dinner the other day, chicken biryani made with thigh meat, coriander, and a healthy teaspoon of Kashmiri chilli.
Whilst waiting for the chicken to defrost, I decided to progress my step count and march up and down the hallway. Indoor exercise looks odd but is necessary in a La Nina year when it seems to rain 24/7 here in Sydney.
Rather than just march, I fired up Spotify and chose a few tunes to make it easier to move. This track came up first.
I always put this version in my ‘best ever’ top 20 — the performance is sublime, and the song, written by Paul Simon when he was just 21 years old, is a work of genius.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
Then the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
In tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence
This lyric tells us we have made trouble that we dare not speak. It is as powerful today as it was in 1963 and ably supported by Disturbed, I am spontaneously singing at the top of my voice as I march up and down the living room.
The delivery builds until the prophets scream their words… only I can’t.
My vocal cords are starved. My core pushes hard at the air in my lungs only for the words on the walls to stick in my throat.
I am silent.
I keep walking up and down in shock until the next relatively obscure track with delightful African rhythms makes everything okay again.
The chicken is ready to simmer with the basmati, and it all comes together into a delicious dish. My wife came home, and we chatted over our dinner as though nothing had happened.
The impact of my strangled voice took a while to register.
Not until the following day did I realise that my closed throat had been that way for years, maybe even my whole life. I can’t sing from my core. My best is to mumble a few ideas through closed lips.
Just thinking this reality shocked me again.
Then I realised where it all came from.
I was brought up in a religious household scared of alternative world views. My parents couldn’t listen to anything other than the bible and the church.
As a lad, just as an adult, I was curious. I had a lot of questions that needed answers. Why must I go to the church three times every Sunday? Do I have to wear this uniform? Why do I have to pray? What is God anyway?
But if I spoke it was, in Paul Simon’s words, to ‘people hearing without listening’ and so after a while, I shut up and said nothing.
I didn’t know that this clamming up would last my whole life.
It took music for me to realise.
The irony is that my career has seen me become an educator, advisor, author, and blogger. This combination of activities is all about voice. I have had plenty of things to say, or so it seems.
My constricted throat screamed at me because even with the tools and the opportunity, I was silent.
This is a big deal for me.
Now that I know my voice is strangled, I can rescue it.