Learning to Be Quiet

Photo by K. Kelley

Learning to Be Quiet by Nancy Schatz Alton

Silence is not my first language. I fill all the spaces up with words.

Especially when I’m nervous. Talk is not my daughter’s first language.

She speaks with her eyes, her face, her singing voice, her silence.

A teacher tells me she is the quietest student he has ever taught.


I spend this season pushing against and then leaning into the way she likes to be.

As we walked last night, she kept bumping up next to me.

She’s in my space all summer long, and if I really want a response from her,

she makes me wait.


Sometimes she opens into her most happy confident self:

Last night she danced down the hill after a mostly silent walk.

Wouldn’t it be great, she said, if everyone was happy and kind and nice at school?

She danced, smiled and teased me about my out of-tune singing, all on her time schedule.


I tell myself I’m no good at waiting, and I wait. I used to think words were fine tools

for empty space. I am learning to let the silence be loud and gentle, spacious

enough to settle into until my daughter’s voice appears. How I want everyone

to hear her voice, yet I know enough to pull back from this wanting


and just be glad to know her silence, the one that notices everything:

the flowers, the street signs, the dogs, that cat and the pitch of every note

in the song she just heard on the radio. If I’m quiet I get to hear her sing

that song as I learn how to listen.






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