October 20, 2010

Smelly Kelly--And the Power of Silence

I HAD A WRITING CLASS LAST YEAR IN WHICH MY PROFESSOR POSED THE ?question “What do you believe in?” After a few days I decided that I believe in the power of silence.
I’m not exactly sure when it was that I met Smelly Kelly. I went to a tiny school in a tiny town, and it seemed to me that she had just always existed. Her given name was, of course, not Smelly Kelly. It was just Kelly, and the students added the smelly part at some point in junior high.
Kids laughed and pointed. They’d whisper and chant as she walked by. Though I was not part of the attacks, my silence, I’m sure, spoke volumes. It told Kelly that I was no better than the chorus leader. I was just as guilty, and just as wicked.
2010 1534 page17One day I found Kelly on the bathroom floor of the locker room holding her knees with her arms. She was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt that was now a distant brown.
“It’s true,” she said without looking at me. “I am smelly.”
In that instant, with the dim light holding her face and neck tightly, I realized that Kelly was actually pretty. Beneath her dry hair and ugly clothes was a pair of high cheekbones and almond eyes. As those same eyes filled up with tears again I watched her bite down on her perfectly pink lips. Smelly Kelly was beautiful, and I wondered, would anyone ever know it?
My heart broke for her, and I instantly wanted to tell her how sorry I was. I wanted to cry and beg for her forgiveness, to drag her out of that locker room and make a public statement to the rest of the class so that they, too, would see how wrong we all were. I didn’t, though. I didn’t say anything. Instead, I just placed my hand on top of hers. We sat there for a while, Kelly and I, speaking in silence. When we left she said “Thank you,” and I told her that I didn’t know what for.
I’m not sure where Kelly is now. We didn’t form some lasting friendship from the situation, and I’m not sure if we ever mixed words again. I did see her a couple years ago. We both said “hi” and kept walking.
Last summer I broke off my engagement two months before the wedding. I wasn’t speaking to anyone. One evening my father came over. I opened the door and then went back to my bed.
“I don’t want to talk,” I told him and put my face right back into my pillow.
“That’s OK,” he responded. “Neither do I.”
He sat there with me in silence. Neither of us speaking, and neither of us wanting to. At some point, however, he lifted his hand and placed it on mine, and that’s when I remembered sitting on that cold bathroom floor with Kelly. Suddenly I realized just exactly what she had thanked me for—the silence. The chance to do nothing but catch your breath, and listen to your own heartbeat.
I realized that in between who I was before and who I had grown to be, in between my lack of backbone then and tears now, in between that recent hello I shared with Kelly that really meant goodbye, lay a calming in the silence. A power in the stillness that words could never have filled.
Christ died on a cross beside taunts and jeers that lasted hours and yet said nothing. Not verbally, anyway. His actions spoke for Him.
Yes, silence has power. This I believe. 
Heather Marie Thompson is the author of Hook, Line, and Sinker, a book about dating, coming out February 2011; and is finishing a master’s degree in communication at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published October 21, 2010.