Giving Voice

A nervous shudder ran through my body when I saw his name in the subject line of the email. I braced myself for some kind of ploy. I rushed to make sense of things in my mind.  

Was he reaching out wanting to make things right or to humbly apologize? I quickly knew the answer was “no.” He wouldn’t meet before. Why would he meet now? I wouldn’t fall for a desperate attempt at repair. It had already cost too much, and he wasn’t trustworthy. I would need mounds of data that indicated significant change before I would engage with him at this point. 

I opened the email and read:

“You have been selected for an opportunity to meet with a listening team.This confidential opportunity will allow you to interact with outside leaders to discuss observations, experiences, and any input you would like to offer. Each session is thirty minutes long and will cycle through a list of questions. Your answers will be treated with the utmost confidence and never be associated directly with your name in the final report.”

The email wasn’t from him after all. It was from an investigative team. “That’s a relief,” I thought, as I let out a long, deep breath. I had anticipated this invitation, and I was ready to use my voice. It wasn’t as distressing as I thought. Or was it?

For several years I had hoped to have someone who had some power to pursue understanding my experience. I had a fantasy that they might listen to the harm that had been caused and then use their role to change something in this situation. I had dreamt that they might be curious about others’ experiences as well. Up until now, the failure to act and minimal care had been painfully destructive.

Now, numerous others and I had an opportunity to be heard. I considered my response carefully…

Historically in this system, I had to be the one to ask for a chance to give my opinion. I was a natural leader, but since I didn’t have an official role and I was a woman, I felt uninvited. I had tried many times in my own way to be heard, but my voice was repeatedly silenced. With each shutting of my lips, my feelings of powerlessness grew. Eventually, I gave up; however, I still saw things with clarity. I had not lost ground, holding on to what I knew was true even though I felt pushed aside.

This silencing was not new to me. It had begun as a child when my family used my observations, emotions, and questions as a chance to mock and laugh at me. Additionally, my grade school teacher relentlessly put on display my habit of talking too much in an effort to humiliate and quiet me.

My voice was familiar with being crushed.

In recent years, I have recovered the use of my words in systems that oppress and shut down freedom and transparency. I have begun to bless what I see and the truth that I know. 

However, this formal invitation came with a risk. If I reentered these uncertain waters, would the listening committee offer a space of protection where I would be heard well, or would I be re-traumatized? It felt precarious.

I held on to hope for integrity, and in a gutsy gesture, I agreed to the appointment. But in the weeks leading up to our meeting, I wavered. “Would this time be any different?’ I wondered. Since my time was one of the last sessions, I discounted my value. What would I have to say that would add anything of importance to the investigation?

The date came and I timidly clicked into the Zoom meeting. The team understood the gravity of the situation and showed care, concern, and discretion. I had prepared what I wanted to share, and I did so with confidence, carrying myself with strength and vulnerability. I felt proud to have shown up. 

When I finished, one of the men on the team spoke words I will not forget. He said approvingly, “Thank you. You filled in some gaps.” I filled in some gaps. I had no idea how, but I let his words settle into my gut as an awakening occurred inside of me. A restoration of my voice. 

In the end, twenty-nine bold and valiant champions, who had been mishandled and abused, used their words to speak their truth. Twenty-nine heroic voices. 

And now we wait.

Maryhelen Martens has been gathering and connecting with others since she was a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. She is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. While her emotions and voice were shut down for decades, she is finding them again and using them in healing groups, story coaching, and writing. She’s always been drawn to water and sunsets and more recently to the desert and sunrises. She’s curious about that. Mother to three authentic adults, Maryhelen lives with her steadfast husband Keith on the shore of Lake Michigan.