Jan Richardson, one of my all time favorite writers and poets, has a poem called Having Taken the Fruit. Here are the last two verses: 

It took a long time to figure out
that my stifling silence
was not a path
back to a paradise
where I could never live. 

I finally learned to listen
to the hissing in my breath
that told me the roots / of my own soul
held the healing that I sought
and that each stilted syllable
I let loose
was another leaf
on the tree of life. 

I could stop here. Invite you to read it again. And then close with “May it be so.” That would be more than enough for this post…for a lifetime. 

But, not surprisingly, I have more to say…

Which is the point: speaking, saying what I think, not allowing “stifling silence.”

Believe me, I’ve known much of just the opposite. More stories, experiences, and moments than I care to count in which I did not speak up, did not use my voice, was not fully myself. 

Here’s a recent one:

I left my corporate job in September of last year. It was not an easy choice, but it was a clear one. One day, an average day, nothing out of the ordinary, I realized that I had (once again!) come to believe that my silence would save me. Surely, if I held my tongue, kept my thoughts to myself, put my head down, and just worked, I could survive. 

Even more, I had talked myself into believing that surely, over time, things would get better. I just need to be patient, bide my time, wait things out. Eventually I’d be able to come up for air and use my voice and speak my mind and make a contribution and be acknowledged for the brilliant contributions that were mine. Right?

(I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had these exact thoughts over the years: in my marriage, in other jobs and other relationships, in justifying every denial of my own wants, needs, and desires…)

Did I mention I left my job in September? 

[Perhaps it’s worth naming, at least parenthetically, that though there was dysfunction in my job – and my former marriage and and and – what I’m most curious about and committed to is understanding my own behavior in the midst, my own patterns, the ways in which I show up – or don’t. Dysfunction is probably a given everywhere; how I choose to “be” in it, is always up to me. OK. Back to where we left off: me leaving my job in September…] 

Choosing my own silence became more painful than the costs that would surely come with speaking up. There just wasn’t enough ROI (return on investment) to make it worth the price I had to pay. 

And therein lies the struggle, yes? 

To cross the divide between silence and speaking always carries risk and cost! (I am convinced that both are always part-and-parcel when a woman chooses to use her voice.) 

We keep wishing for a way to speak, a way to be, without having to bear the consequences that will undoubtedly ensue: the apple carts we’ll tip over, the ache of putting boundaries in place, the backlash that’s unavoidable, the misunderstanding that’s certain, the loss, the fear, and the unanswerable question of “what if…?”

Sorry. I don’t have a a three-step plan or easy-fix for you. Through instead of around. Deeper instead of skimming the surface. Awareness instead of avoidance. Yep, all that…

Thankfully, Jan Richardson offers much encouragement in this regard. Just two stanzas from another poem she wrote called The Magdalene’s Blessing

I tell you
this is not a banishment
from the garden. 

This is an invitation,
a choice,
a threshold,
a gate. 

This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
have dreamed
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.

Not a three-step plan, or easy-fix, but true and rich and wise:

  • Your stifling silence is the opposite of your life calling to you.
  • The path back to a paradise where you could never live is the opposite of a place you could never have dreamed
  • And listening to the hissing in your breath is what enables you to choose another way, to choose yourself, to heal your very self and soul.

[Perhaps it’s worth naming that this does not always mean that you have to leave a job or a marriage or a conversation. But what’s almost always true is that when you cross the divide between silence and speaking, risks and costs are present. What’s always true is that your voice, your words, your heart – all these and then some – are worth every single cost, every single time. “…you cannot imagine choosing any other way.”]

May it be so.


I send out a letter every Monday morning – with bits and pieces of my story, the telling of stories I love, and every bit of encouragement and support I can muster on behalf of your story. I’d love for you to have it. SUBSCRIBE