Did you know that silence can speak?
For my Master’s thesis in French literature, I analyzed how the male protagonists in two plays reveal their weaknesses through their inability to speak, whereas the female characters gain authority through their controlled silence. I learned that silence can convey many meanings: a lie, a secret, a pause for theatrical effect, an expression of complete astonishment… What began as a thought-provoking study became a crucial step towards finding my own voice.
My life started in silence. I could not speak in complete sentences until I was 5. My mother was worried but careful not to show her concern. She wanted me to be confident. I gradually found meaningful ways of expressing myself through the arts. In ballet class, the graceful movements inspired me, and I could let out my emotions by simply swaying to the music. When I played piano, I could lose myself in the world of Mozart and Chopin. While drawing portraits, I could capture my observations of a person’s character. These pastimes enriched me and helped me voice my thoughts.
At school, I discovered the joy of learning languages, which cultivated different facets of my own identity. In French, I am Mélodie, a bona fide Francophile whose idea of paradise is strolling along the Seine or eating at a boulangerie. In Chinese, I am 敏迪, who takes pride in her familial heritage and can connect with her relatives in their native tongue. In Spanish, I am Melodía, a woman in love with a man from Valencia. People are sometimes surprised to learn that I was speech-delayed, given my affinity for languages, but perhaps those years of silence made me crave diverse forms of expression.
For the past three years, I had the privilege of working at a non-profit organization that presents world-class performances in Boston. It was a dream job because of my love for the performing arts. In my first year there, I co-produced Street Pianos Boston, a festival where we placed 75 decorated pianos all over the city for anyone to play. The experience taught me how the language of music can bring people together. I would meet strangers who clustered in excitement around the pianos to enjoy the music. A woman told me how, late one night, a homeless man started to hug a piano while she was playing it. She assumed he was drunk but continued on. Later, he wrote on a notepad that he was deaf but could still feel the music she was playing. He thought it was beautiful.
During my time at the non-profit, where I transitioned to a fundraising role, I came to fully appreciate the language of giving. While our patrons show their care for the organization through their financial support, they also make invaluable contributions by volunteering their time and skills to help us.
Exploring how silence can “speak” heightened my awareness of the various channels through which I can communicate, both verbally and nonverbally. I want to continue to lend my voice to missions whose calls for help are falling on deaf ears. I envision a community where the arts are shared and celebrated by many. The arts have given me so much, but mostly they have given me a global language with which to communicate. And I hope to inspire others with my own voice, in all of its colors and tones.
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