Suffering of the Quiet

One of my cats died last week. Her name was Dax (we’re Trekkies) — 11-years-old, a tiny female. She was a very quiet cat, hardly ever meowed.

To us, cats were children-substitutes. So when real children started arriving, our cats became more neglected. Our other cat, Jean-Luc, is a big, burly and very vocal male cat. He would whine and moan and pester us until he’d get the attention he deserved. But when he was frustrated, he took it out on Dax, by bullying her.

I remember Dax would come to me very late at night — right when I was going to bed — and start rubbing herself against me. I would get very annoyed, and shoved her away. Why was she doing that, in the middle of the night, right when I’m trying to fall asleep?

Now I know the answer. Because that was the only time when everybody else was away, and she didn’t have to compete with bigger and louder lifeforms to ask for affection.

Looking back, now I am convinced that she became ill because her needs were not met. Sure, she had food and water — but nobody paid good attention to her and the other cat companion was a big bully that she constantly had to stay away from. I believe that lives that are happy and fulfilled don’t get sick. They just don’t. She died of a kidney failure. 11-years-old was not young, but certainly not that old. While I was busy raising kids and tolerating the other cat, Dax was quietly storing stress in her body, which blew up one day and she couldn’t recover.

People express stress and hurt in many different ways. The healthiest ways are with exercise, good night’s sleep and channeling it in artistic self-expression. For example, I listen to a lot of angry and heavy rock music (and make some, too) to let out that kind of emotions.

Others take it out in less healthy ways — binge eating and drinking, impulse shopping, complaining, and so on. These can be problematic, because they tend to perpetuate itself. You get in a habit of relying on these activities to relieve your pain, and you get stuck there, used to a regular dose of quick relief.

But that’s still better than some of us who just simply store them inside. With no outlet. I myself may have belonged to this camp, if it weren’t for my music — I generally am the type of person who turns quiet and expression-less when I’m angry or hurt. Some people, behind their quiet and unobtrusive demeanor, are storing years and years of hurt, resentment, and frustration. Sooner or later, they burst. In illnesses, in meltdowns, in divorces, and in self-destruction. And when they do, it’s often a surprise — an unpleasant one, to say the least.

Like my cat, if we let them continue to accumulate quiet suffering, it can lead to a sudden tragic end. None of us ultimately have the power to change how others live their lives. But if you know some quiet people, I’d encourage you to sit down and ask them how they’re doing. They may not say much at first, but even little gestures, when repeated consistently, can thaw some pretty thick ice.

Know that silence doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is OK. On the contrary, silence usually means the opposite. Happy and energetic life screams out for itself. Letting the world know of its joy.

We all grease squeaky wheels, because they are loud and annoying. But if we want to go beyond ordinary, and help create a safe place for everyone to live a happy and fulfilling life — then we need to seek out and listen to the voices that are not talking.

For that’s where the deepest suffering lies — in quiet places.