How I Lost My Voice, Then Found It

I was awakened Tuesday morning—moments before the bossy phone’s alarm went off—to the sound of rain on the roof. It was a light but steady rain. I touched “tap to snooze” and thought, I don’t think I’m going to the Georgia State Capitol today.

walk in our shoes

I had joined the Facebook event—one among 66 maybes—and had every intention of making a statement with my feet. I remembered wistfully the time I boarded a bus headed to our nation’s capitol, a bus filled with Barnard College students, to protest an attempted repeal of Roe v. Wade. Reproductive rights, women’s health, freedom to make decisions about my body, these were issues that still resonated, more than twenty years later. Yet, while I wanted to storm the legislative hearings and make some noise, I seemed to have lost my voice.

Instead, I drove my son to school, answered email and, when the rain slowed to an intermittent drizzle, took a short walk with the dog. Just before 9 a.m., my phone lit up with a text message from a friend: Are you going to the rally at the state capital today?

Feeling guilty about my decision not to go, I replied: Unfortunately only in spirit. Are you going?

I was thinking of going, but the weather and my daughter are making me re-think it. She is home sick.

At that moment I realized that I hadn’t lost my voice at all. Motherhood had merely restrained my voice of protest, at least for now, in favor of my voice of compassion. Raising children had taught me to speak in varied tones.

I shared my regret that an afternoon meeting and parenting duties after school were keeping me close to home, because I worried that my children might suffer the consequences if I got delayed downtown.

I feel this protest in my kishkes but also the competing commitment to be the responsible parent. So you and I are in the same boat…there will always be another opportunity to protest. This one isn’t the right one for me today, I guess.

I said this—well, typed it—in my authentic voice. The one that expresses my solidarity with women who are likewise struggling to find the right tone of voice for the right occasion. Sometimes we need to speak about the things that matter to us, modeling for our daughters and granddaughters how to protect our autonomy and freedom to make decisions about our bodies. Other times we need to listen quietly, to discern how best to meet their more immediate physical and emotional needs.

If my friend hadn’t texted me to ask whether I was going to the rally, I would have blamed myself—my lack of commitment to the cause, my loss of momentum—for staying home. I would have used my voice against myself.

Instead, I read her text as a challenge to find my voice and use it to honor our choices, to commiserate about our common challenges.  What she said next is exactly what I was planning to say to her:

Thanks for making me feel better.



tower of silence front webTitle of Piece: “Private Caller

Artist: Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried

Created: February 2014 for Rabbis Without Borders Alumni Retreat

This is the second piece in a series of Found Object Sculptures using cell phones, wire, paint and clay. My first piece, titled “One Breath,” was created in a class taught by local artist, Flora Rosefsky, who is my co-teacher at The Brill Institute of the MJCCA. She has created ten art workshops to be offered alongside Melton’s Shivi’m Panim (Bereshit) curriculum, a review of biblical and rabbinic texts, and works of art, related to the book of Genesis.

Flora’s original artistic vision was that cell phones represent towers of silence in our modern society. In her opinion, because many people use their phones to send text messages and email rather than to speak to one another, they are actually causing a breakdown of communication. “One Breath” illustrated my response to Flora by demonstrating the cell phone as a tool for connection.

After the class, Flora and I spoke about my desire to adapt the workshop and teach it at the annual retreat for Rabbis Without Borders alumni. In preparation, I collected broken cell phones and cracked screens from Interstate Batteries employees, who repair and replace cracked screens. They have been remarkably supportive and generous, allowing me to rifle through their trash on a bi-monthly basis. I also experimented with paint pens and metallic markers, instead of acrylic paint, and alternative materials for the base, in order to make the project more portable.

“Private Caller” began as a prototype; but as I tested the various materials, I became absorbed in communicating a message through my piece. Since October, I’d been thinking about the way I use caller i.d. to screen my calls, about how this serves to disconnect me from potentially important conversations. Reading this essay, in which Caeli Wolfson Widger describes her failure to answer the call of her cousin who was contemplating suicide, had profoundly affected me.

Having discovetower of silence back webred that smearing paint into the cracks emphasized the damage, I chose red paint to make the phone look bloodied. I wanted the piece to reflect how broken I felt after reading Widger’s piece, how frightening I found the (thankfully averted) violence that might have resulted from this missed connection. I threaded red wire through the cracked screens, bound the two broken pieces together and anchored them to the clay. The wire represents my new-found resolve to answer calls whenever I am available, and to listen to messages and return calls in a timely fashion. “Private Caller” sits on my desk as a physical reminder of my responsibility to repair the damage of disconnection that I may have unwittingly wrought through the use of technology.


Feeling Better Metrics

conversionI’m feeling better today. Better enough to have developed an unscientific way to measure how much better I feel.

According to these calculations, I’m 70 points better today than yesterday:

Awakened at 9 a.m. by the tornado siren, I moved quickly to the basement. Once downstairs, I couldn’t stop myself from throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine. (10 points)

Drank two cups of coffee with milk. While this did not taste like the nectar of the gods, it did not make me feel nauseated. (20 points, 10 per cup)

Sat upright on the couch all morning. At noon, went upstairs to office and turned on computer. (5 points)

Summoned enough brain power to complete Sunday’s New York Times crossword puzzle. (15 points)

Answered email, balanced checkbook and posted this list. (20 points)

Now I’m going to take a nap.