Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Silence: Golden or Deadly?

I live in a small, 55 and over community. Since July, 2011, I have been involved with the social organization, serving as president.

When new board members were elected in June, I took the opportunity to pass the office on. The treasurer position was open and I volunteered to do that for the remainder of my two-year term.

The new president called a meeting of the board for July 2nd. Due to a previous commitment, I was unable to attend.

Notes from that meeting were distributed online. I read and saved them to my computer.

A few days later, an email surprised me. A release of funds was expected for an upcoming event. Not a few days before the event but an entire month before. Since this wasn’t mentioned in the notes, and previous policy had been reimbursement, I questioned it.

A flurry of emails circulated, none of which fully explained the change.

On Friday evening, I opened my email account, planning to send just one personal note.

Two emails to the entire board greeted me. One, addressed to me by name, berated me for not attending the first meeting and for not reading the minutes for that meeting, though I had. It accused me of casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the person designated to receive the funds, though I had stated that was not the reason for my discomfort with the new policy. The last sentence hit hard: I wish you had been as concerned last year about money and this organization.

My stomach clenched. I opened the next one, titled ‘we are a team.’ It listed the changes made in the first week, the words – our first seven days – in bold.

Like God, I thought, only he rested on day seven. I smiled. But my smile faded when I reached the end.

The last two sentences dismissed my concerns as bullshit and compared me to a monkey in a circus act.

My heart pounded in my ears. If my blood pressure had been taken, I would have been hospitalized.

I stewed all night, writing and re-writing responses on paper as well as in my head. I deleted them all, unsent.

But my body had paid attention. I spent Saturday morning in and out of the bathroom as my body tried to flush the poison. I made phone calls and left messages for friends.

Over the next two days, with the help of trusted friends and a practice I’ve followed for nearly 25 years, it became clear how to handle the situation. A valued friend assisted with composition of my letter of resignation. It was acknowledged Sunday evening.

Done. Or so I thought.

On Monday afternoon while helping a neighbor clean up her yard, my phone rang. I was greeted by the new president’s barely contained fury, demanding that I produce a form documenting the non-profit status of the association. She couldn’t find it and claimed the state couldn't either. I protested that it was among the items I had given her. Her attack continued, berating me for screwing up the entire organization.

I felt like a rabbit, caught in the open with nowhere to run. As her rant continued, my desire to help evaporated. I punched ‘end’ on my phone.

A few minutes later, heart pounding, I called back. Her partner answered. He said she wasn’t there. I suggested that she not scream at me again.

But now I’m trapped. Their house can be seen from my living room window. I drive by on my way in and out of the complex. She’s often outside. Residents stop and chat. Up to now, I didn’t pay much attention, though I could hear bits and pieces of conversation when my windows were open.

I had already spent Saturday and Sunday—prior to sending my resignation—afraid to open my email. By Monday I had relaxed my grip on the issue.

Now, I wonder what is being spread about me. Only one board member objected to the tone of the initial emails; the other seven have remained silent.

I'm sure the former treasurer and I submitted the form and check. It may have been lost. If so, I would be to blame for not realizing that.

Though this is a small matter and a small community, I understand how deadly silence can be. It eats at your core, because you can’t respond to what has not been said. You hesitate to greet a neighbor, in case a formerly friendly person now regards you with distaste. You wait for the next shot to be fired, the next bomb to explode, spooked by silence.

My experience has been but a tiny taste of what Jews, African-Americans and other minorities must deal with on a daily basis. Yet, on this miniature scale, I’m feeling the kind of conspiracy of silence that whirled Germany into the Holocaust. It is physically as well as emotionally debilitating.

I’ve re-read The Four Agreements, focusing on not taking any of this personally, not absorbing the poison that has been sent my way.

I didn't attend the next general meeting, but a few days afterward the new president stopped me as I passed her place.

"I need to apologize," she said.

I nodded and said I hoped she would never do that to anyone again. "It was very painful."

That same afternoon, the form to renew the association's non-profit status arrived in my mailbox. I love the timing! I smiled all the way to her house and back.