A couple days ago, Frodo and I were running errands around town, as we generally do. Our mornings can look fairly homogenous: take big brother to preschool. Pry younger brother who really, really wants to go to preschool, too, away from preschool. Head to the gym. Say hi to parking lot attendant, Lisette. Go to the store so we can feed our little army. Head home and put groceries away. Play trains for ten minutes. Pick up big brother from preschool. Pry younger brother who really, really wants to go to preschool, too, away from preschool, again.
On this particular morning, I figured I’d catch up on podcasts while we drove from Point A to Point B, and back again. I mean, it might take me an interrupted three hours, but I was determined to actually finish one of Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next 27 minute-long podcasts (because, oh, friends, they’re that good).
But every time I pressed play, a cry arose from the back seat.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay. We’re almost home and I’ll get you food then.” (The boy, you see, is eternally driven by a very animate object called His Stomach). My words to him seemed to be enough, so on we drove.
This time, the podcast was quickly interrupted by short bursts of recurring screams, and we use our words! We do not scream! Okay, Baby? Use your words!
“It’s going to be all right. We’re almost there. I know you’re hungry. Oh, did you lose your sock, too?” Once again, I turned off the podcast and spoke directly to my son. Once again, his screams abated and all was well in our quasi-minivan corner of this world.
“Tawk, nah! Tawk, nah! Tawk, nah!” This time the words were his. This time, I could tell he was trying to say something to me, but what that something was I couldn’t decipher.
I had no clue, but I knew this little learning-to-speak-creature was trying to tell me something. So, I started to say the words out loud with him: Tawk, nah. Tawk, nah. Tawk, nah…
And that’s when it hit me: Talk, no.
He didn’t want me to play the podcast anymore. He didn’t want the altogether lovely voices emanating from my cell phone to emanate anymore.
Dude was done with Mama not giving him her undivided attention.
“Baby, talk no? You don’t want Mama to play the voices anymore?”
So, I stopped the podcast-playing for obvious reasons.
Now, you may be reading this post thinking, um, duh. His communication signals and subsequent words may have been very, very obvious to you from the get-go. But sometimes it takes us awhile to realize the blinking, neon, thousand-watt message right in front of us. Sometimes it takes me a very long, long while to realize the blinking, neon, thousand-watt message right in front of me.
And sometimes it takes me awhile to learn that I need to shut up.
I’m learning that there’s a time to speak and a time to listen, a time to use my words and a time to refrain from using my words because it’s not my turn.
Last week, the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I went to hear author, speaker, professor and activist Brenda Salter McNeil, when she was in town. And the woman is a powerhouse, y’all. She weaves justice and reconciliation, God and the human condition, in and out of places of story, reminding each of her listeners (and readers) of their chosen place on earth.
So, here she was, talking through the book of Esther, a book in the Bible mind you, with no mention of God …even though we know the book’s still there for a reason. We know that there might be something as to why it landed, even still, in that great book of books. We know, that we’re going to find and uncover and discover justice – God’s justice – still.
And we did.
“Too often we think justice means just us,” she said toward the end. We think it’s all about us. We get so wrapped up in our bubble, we forget that justice is not necessarily for us, but it’s for those who are already all around us.
And when this happens, we forget that sometimes all we need to do is shut our traps and look for the marginalized who are already around us.
So, that’s what I’m doing: I’m learning to shut up so I can see the need right in front of me. I’m trying my hardest to talk, no. I’m trying my hardest to learn about justice instead of think that I already have a handle on All Things Justice. I’m trying my hardest to see who’s already around me, so I can be changed from the inside out.
And I wonder: could it be the same for you?
Could there be places where you need to just shut up and listen? Could there be places where you need to talk, no? Could there be places where you need to lean into hearing someone else’s story, and seeing someone else’s face, and learning to embrace someone else’s need?
So many thoughts: Anne Bogel’s podcast. Brenda Salter McNeil. Justice not meaning JUST US. Your thoughts? GO! (PS: We’re reading Dr. Brenda’s book, Roadmap to Reconciliation, in October for Shalom in the City’s monthly book club podcast. Join us!)
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