Please Hear What I’m Not SayingBy Eric Anders • Sep 24th, 2012 • Category: COMMENTARY
When I graduated from college, I took a position as an assistant dispatcher at a rather large, multi-location moving and storage company just outside of Washington DC. That was way back in 1974.
It was an easy decision. I'd worked summers loading and unloading local moving and storage trucks and over-the-road moving vans to put myself through school. Originally, the idea was that the office job was only supposed to be a short-term, temporary career move.
I accepted the low wages, long hours, and miserable working conditions as a way to finance a 5-7 month long 'hippie' hike along the 2200 mile long Appalachian Trail between Maine and Georgia the following spring. After that, the plan was to enroll in grad school and pursue a masters in clinical psychology.
As part of the career training required to obtain my degree in counseling, I spent some time volunteering at a private behavioral health organization located about a mile off campus.
The 120-year old "asylum for the indigent" provided both medical and psychiatric services to meet the physical and emotional needs of abandoned inner-city kids and troubled teens; distressed, drug dependent, or detoxed parents; and the families of older adults or single seniors coping with geriatric problems or dementia issues.
Due to it's centralized proximity to a large number of military bases and government supported VA facilities in the area, the social services and psychiatric wing of the hospital also saw a large number of injured and recovering Vietnam veterans seeking help inside.
Originally many of these men and women had had their war wounds and battle-scars treated at Walter Reed or the Bethesda Navel Hospital.
When they were deemed 'healed' by their military doctors, these largely under-appreciated soldiers had been 'officially' released back into society with their rebuilt bodies and a handful of powerful prescriptions to treat their mostly misunderstood post traumatic stress disorders.
Many discovered the outpatient services offered by the hospital's public trauma center when they either needed a drug refill or flipped out unexpectedly from the demons harboring their PTSD.
A long, "anonymous" journey …
While waiting outside the office of the head shrink one day, I noticed several dogeared pages thumb-tacked together under a small sign on the bulletin board that invited readers to “Take One”.
There was only one copy left. It had been mimeographed so many times that it was hard to read.
The two faded pages included a poem entitled “Please Hear What I'm Not Saying”. It was signed “Anonymous”. The department receptionist, a student volunteer like me, said she was told the original handwritten copy had been found in a field hospital near Sharpsburg not too long after the Battle at Antietam.
When I took the last one, I intended to make some more copies. Unfortunately, I never got the chance.
The next day the fiance of a marine who had his testicles blown off and scrotum shredded by shrapnel picked the faded copies off my desk while they waited to see a counselor about his constant nightmares and recurring thoughts of suicide.
After reading it to herself, she started reciting it for him – slowly and quietly – while he fumbled and mumbled through the paperwork. They were both crying softly and holding each other tightly when they took the pages into their meeting with the doctor. I never saw them again.
Eventually the department chair's secretary made me another copy of the poem. It's yellowed, faded, and page-worn now, but tucked away in a safe place. My eyes still well up every time I read it.
Last week, I received a surprise email from the injured vet and his “bride”!
She said they found me through the internet. The happy note included Pininterst links to recent pictures of the couple with the three smiling Vietnamese kids they adopted three decades ago … and their seven grand kids … and two great-grandkids.
It also included the following poem and link to a website operated by it's author, Charles C. Finn. The author, as it turns out, was another 'hippie' psychologist. Finn wrote “Please Hear What I'm Not Saying” in 1966 while teaching high school in Chicago. The name of the poem is also the title of a book of his work that Finn and his wife published several years ago.
My long-lost friends said the the 'Anonymous' copy they “borrowed” from my desk is now yellowed, faded, and page-worn – but each member of their family has a framed copy hanging in their home.
I'm glad technology helped them beat down the wall of time!
Hope you enjoy it as much as I always have!
Please hear what I’m not saying
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I'm afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature with me,
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm and I'm in command
and that I need no one,
but don't believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It's the only thing that will assure me
of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.
But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me,
that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's really nothing,
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying,
what I'd like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can't say.
I don't like hiding.
I don't like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you've got to help me.
You've got to hold out your hand
even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.
Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.
Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.
Charles C. Finn
Story of a Poem Passed from Hand to Hand – Poetry by Charles C. Finn
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