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If Your Voice Is Shaking

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“Speak your mind, even if your voice is shaking.”  -Maggie Kuhn

I have memories of being a typically-gregarious little girl who was afraid to speak in class.  Maybe it was more self-consciousness than fear. My young male peers taunted me on the basketball court at recess and inside the classroom walls–“like children do”–because I was a young female with something she wanted to say.   They told me this.   They explained to me my boundaries “because I was a girl.”  Even though I sensed that all of us knew these were untrue, these young men said all this because it had power.  It had power because we all knew it had once been thought to be true.  And that was a powerful reminder.  (Where do second graders learn this?  Probably Nickelodeon sitcoms).

Generally speaking, I imagine these situations evoke two types of reaction: Either young females learn not to speak up in class; studies have confirmed this.  Or, they start talking louder.  With the impassioned cursive script of a second grader, I decided to report gender confrontation after gender confrontation in our class “Conflict” notebook, which my teacher read aloud once a week before facilitating a detailed lesson and class discussion concerning conflict resolution skills.  I started talking louder.

And I’ve been loud ever since. I’m the kind of person who steps out into the middle of Boston traffic to yell at taxi drivers who spit out racist and homophobic slurs in moments of senseless road rage.  I have this intense moral compass (undoubtedly learned from my mother) and I will simply shatter if I don’t speak up sometimes.

That’s why I don’t know what to do with the trembling voice and unsteady pen I have found myself with in recent times.  In moments like these, I don’t recognize myself.  I ask myself, “What happened to that little girl with that strong, loud voice? The young woman who believed in the potential power of her voice?”  I am second-guessing my words, projecting onto myself the presumed judgements of others.  I doubt whether anything I have to say could possibly make any difference for the causes I address.  My voice trembles when I speak, and I struggle to silence its shaking doubt.

I keep speaking, though. I keep writing, clearly.  One of my favorite quotes reads, “No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger.”  It’s from Rilke, the writer who told a young poet to keep writing when he doubted himself.  I think my voice shakes these days because I have given myself to a sort of danger–to the danger of a challenging academic environment, to new friends and brilliant peers, to a world far from the comforts and tangible love of home.  It feels vulnerable. But it is getting better.

I still believe that one day I will open my mouth and the words won’t shake anymore.  I hope they will resound louder and stronger than before.

Until then, I’ll keep talking.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/manjidesigns/2924530940/


  1. Mike B says:

    I wish it were a little easier to “keep talking” sometimes….I wonder how much of being strong depends on being “loud.” Hopefully, honesty, dedication, courage, curiosity and integrity play a role too. (Otherwise I think I am in trouble since I have a job where lots of people yell at me during the week :)).

    Someone once referred me to 1 Kings 19 11-13…..I’m not sure if “I have a dream” “Mr Gorbichev tear down this wall” or “Yes we can” would have been as effective, though, if they were delivered with “a gentile whisper.”

    Anyway, nice job on the website. You always post really interesting thoughts.

  2. Mike,
    Thanks for your comment–I think that powerful list of adjectives that you offer is precisely what I mean by “loud.”

    Thank you for the beautiful passage recommendation in 1 King. I was just looking over the readings for this Sunday, and the first reading caught my eye too:

    “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
    until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
    and her victory like a burning torch.” (Is. 62:1)

  3. Kristin says:


    Boy oh boy do we need another coffee date soon. I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole second-guessing myself thing, especially in the context of HDS and my internship. I would love to pick your brain some … !!!

  4. Rachel says:

    Simply – thank you

    I have a feeling dropping by here will prove very fruitful

    Rachel – a struggling ordinand in a British theological college

  5. Rachel, thank you for your encouraging feedback. Blessings to you–

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