Say what you need to say

No one means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.
— Henry Adams

Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) singing from a tree branch (2009_03_08_012482)

I’ve never seen a bird hesitate to speak its mind.  And that even in the absence of an obvious audience.  They say what they need to say, and they do so without fear or hesitation.  There’s much to be learned from this habit.

Walking on the bridge to nowhere has afforded me an opportunity to view life through a unique lens, one not used by most people I know.  One of the first things I noticed?  Unspoken words.

Do we assume things need not be said, that those we might say them to already know what we might say and we therefore have no reason to say them?  Do we think we’ll be seen as silly for saying the obvious?  Do we fear the response?  Do we struggle clumsily with language and think we can’t communicate what needs to be said, at least not with the depth of spirit with which it’s meant?  Do we assume there will be time later to say these things?

There seems more than certain logic in this axiom: it’s better to say too much than not enough.  Yet even I must admit a great deal has gone unsaid in my life, some of it now too late to say.  And part of that embarrasses me for I am an advocate of people recognizing the impermanence of life and the lack of time promised.  The only moment we’re guaranteed is the moment we’re in right now.  That’s also the only life we can live.  Anything beyond right now is nothing more than conjecture.

A male northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) singing from a treetop (2009_02_20_010310)

For you see, setting foot upon the bridge to nowhere came unbeknownst to me.  I journeyed along thinking myself on the path I intended when in fact I had slowly come to be on the trail I now follow.  And when I made that known to others?  I discovered getting on the bridge came like a sunburn.

You lie happily in the sun turning yourself every fifteen minutes or so thinking about how gorgeous your tan will be.  Meanwhile, everyone around you is thinking you’re looking awfully pink and maybe you should head into the shade for a bit.  Each time they look, you’re a bit further along toward a burn, but for you you’re just toasty and in progress.  Only when the damage is done are you aware of it, yet so many saw it coming all along.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not laying blame.  I’m as guilty of this as the next person.  What I know stems from what came after I disclosed the bridge to nowhere.  “Perhaps that explains…”  “We had been thinking…”  “I noticed…”  Each response surprised me for each came like the onlooker who after the sunburn mentions how they thought you’d been looking like a freshly boiled lobster for the last hour.

Being on the bridge to nowhere surprised me.  It didn’t surprise many around me.  I wish I had known what they knew.  I wish someone had said something.

A male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) calling out (2008_12_07_001616)

Yet it’s not just the question of what might have been had I known what others saw when they saw it.  It’s also the question of opportunities missed.

I lost a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle in the last two years.  I lost three friends just in the past two months.  Each loss reminded me that I had not said what I should have said, at least not recently.  Sure, each of them knew I loved them, but how long had it been since I reiterated that?  Had they known my feelings in light of maturity or only from past disclosures tainted by age?

Too much goes unsaid in life.  Walking on the bridge to nowhere made that very clear to me.  Like the birds who speak when they need to speak no matter if anyone is listening, we humans need to recognize that it’s better to say too much than not enough.

For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change.
— Ingrid Bengis

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  1. Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
  2. Northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  3. Male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

3 thoughts on “Say what you need to say”

  1. Lovely words, well said – as usual.

    I hate to quibble over such lovely writing, but I have to disagree about the birds! I know its a great rhetorical device, but – as one who studies what birds say and when they say it, I know they fear and hesitate too. And are all too mindful of their audience, even if we don’t notice who that audience is! They can be all too human to in that way…

    There – I couldn’t leave that unsaid! 🙂

    1. Hahaha! Best example of “say what you need to say,” Madhu! Thanks!

      And it’s not quibbling at all. I see it as a necessary footnote. I did use birds as a rhetorical device, but I should have included a snippet explaining that fact. I watch sparrows fall silent when a Cooper’s hawk is in the area, I watch mockingbirds have song fights, and I watch blue jays use raptor mimicry to frighten other birds away from food. As long as I’ve been observing nature, I wholeheartedly agree that birds pay attention to who’s listening. So thank you for adding that note here, something I should have done up front.

  2. Thanks for that timely reminder Jason. (Getting close to the close of the old year and thinking about how to improve ourselves for the forthcoming one!) I agree with you. All too often I assume it’s OK not to repeat something once it’s been said, fearful that hammering home the sentiment too often might make it less sincere. Of course there is fragile poignancy in a truth whispered only once in the recipient’s ear… I’m sure you know what I’m getting at here… that makes the meaning more intense than were it to be oft-repeated. For my own part I’m a little reticent about such things, though I try to demonstrate my feelings in everyday things.

    But on the principle that if what should be spoken… or written… doesn’t, because of embarrassment, I shall dive straight in and say that everything you show of yourself on this blog makes me love you Jason, a feeling I can see is shared by many who visit here. You’re the BUSINESS my friend, and you lighten the darkness.

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