I listened to two talks over the last two days. One by a monk, another by a musician. Before we get to that, let’s go to the beginning.
Two weeks ago, I received a text from TF. It read: You should listen to a talk on Bowing and Repentance by Ven Heng Sure…at the temple down the road from you.
My defences went up immediately. I seethed. Texts from TF are rare and most times it’s logistical in nature – when is the next gathering at grandma’s, what time we’re meeting for lunch, where to go for dinner, etc. The tone and type of message of this particular text was typical of our relationship though, and what I view to be his opinion of me. I felt very certain that as an educated man, he knew what his intention was and chose those words deliberately. But after I calmed down, I decided that I’d reply without prejudice.
I asked: Why? Are you going?
TF replied that he’d like to listen to the talk. I left it as that and took it to mean he wanted some company, so we made the necessary arrangements.
On the day of the talk, I picked him up and headed home as it was still early. The car ride started out well. I told him I attended a friend’s wedding the night before, possibly the last among my friends. We ran down a list of friends and relations and he concluded that certainly, there’s a cousin who would never be married as he’s intellectually disabled.
I asked: “Why not? It’s possible.”
TF ripped in. I defended my position – just ‘cos someone is intellectually disabled, it doesn’t mean they can’t understand, want or find love. Presumably, his parents and the girl’s parents would have an understanding of how it’d turn out. It’s difficult but not impossible. He thought I was mad and derided my ‘modern’ opinion, then said: I suppose you think gays are fine.
I replied: “Yes, of course.”
A snort and I knew that was the wrong answer to keep my peace and calm. I stayed mostly silent during TF’s blasting of gay people even though I was screaming inside. It’s what I do to keep myself out of the picture during times like these, as anything I say has a boomerang effect coming back to hit me. No, let the gay people be ignorant in this case, let them bear the name calling. Far better for me to stand back and preserve my sense of self.
The evening had one other incident installed for me but its details aren’t important. I would only say that I often disagree with TF’s point of view.
So two talks, two days, two very different careers, two very different people, two very different topics. Upon reflection, I realised that they shared something similar – both speakers started at the same point. Both of them wanted a voice to send a message to the world.
I told TH that I think people like Master Heng Sure and Dave Grohl are born to lead, to be heard. It’s their destiny. They recognised at a very young age what they had to do. What of the rest of us? As I thought more about Dave Grohl’s keynote at SXSW, I began to entertain the idea that perhaps I too have a voice, even though I’ll never be singing nor giving speeches in front of a crowd.
“There is no right or wrong. There is only, YOUR VOICE. Your voice screaming through an old Neve 8028 recording console, your voice singing from a laptop, your voice echoing from a street corner, a cello, a turntable, a guitar, serrato, a studer, It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that it’s YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s fucking gone. Because every human being is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . .
It’s there, if you want it…And, as a proud father, I pray that someday that they (my insertion: his daughters) are left to their own devices, that they realize that the musician comes first, and that THEY find THEIR VOICE, and that THEY become someone’s Edgar Winter, THEY become someone’s Beatles, and that THEY incite a riot, or an emotion, or start a revolution, or save someone’s life.”
Many years ago, I made a promise to myself that no one I interact with should ever walk away feeling like I made their day worse, even if they were horrible to begin with. I’m a glass half empty person and I’ll be damned if I make someone else’s the same way or worse, empty. I don’t know if my voice will ever inspire, start a revolution or save someone’s life, but I recognise now that this is my voice: It’s one of fairness, kindness and understanding. A voice of reason and free of judgement. It will not be pushed to accept dogma nor to believe in the shallow constructs that others make of me.
I will nurture it and make it stronger, and hopefully one day I won’t be silent.