What is an inner voice? A silent activity that takes up a large amount of time in our daily and intimate life: remembering details, phrases or words heard, listing things to do, reciting verses, humming a tune, endlessly reviewing arguments deciding or step of an action, replaying a lived scene which will have left us with a mixed or inflamed feeling, a conflict, a discussion, an aborted or postponed decision… It is the famous “little voice”, so intimate, and which seems to multiply up to the impression of listening to someone else speaking in our head or our heart. It is also the voice that sometimes resounds in our intimacy when we are looking for an unfindable or inexpressible answer to some difficulty of existence, to such deep questions, at the limits of shame, guilt, and which touch on our own stability or gravity on earth, among others.
This is what I asked myself one evening, leaving the nursing home where my mother now resides, disturbed once again by the phantom presence of this beloved and loving woman, by her conversation in the form of a poignant soliloquy. The word phantom came absently under my pen while writing to you. The stubborn little voice that suddenly challenges us, in the heart of our loneliness, is what summons the ghosts of our lives. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in that floating part of the beings around us that seems to ask us for help, attention, a look that we wouldn’t have given. A phantom presence that our cruel distraction or our lightness will have thrown into abandonment and wandering. Our little inner voice summons a whole fragile people waiting for our humanity. Voice without which, I understood, our very humanity wavers and is lost.
What that voice stammered that evening, as I walked along the Quai du Bassin de la Villette before taking the Paris metro again, took on such relief, such authority, that I had to suspend my walk to try to read it. listen and understand what she meant to me. The feeling of betraying my own mother, of having abandoned her. The shame of miserable little justifications to make a painful situation reasonable. Mom lost in this strange “living room” where a few residents are prostrate, panicked, mute, or seized with a stifled delirium, and who seem to be waiting indefinitely for someone or something. “Goodbye, Mom, we’ll be right back. And her suddenly huge, imploring gaze when we leave her, my brother and me. And these whispered words: “Ah, I’m not staying here. I have to go back home. I don’t know where I put my jacket. And my shoes? You didn’t have a jacket, Mum, and you’re only wearing a pair of black slippers.
Our inner voice does not speak. It rustles in deep silence. It makes us hear the impossible voice of our humanity, the one that resists beyond words and reasons, that humbly reminds us of our duty to question ourselves, to move us, to question ourselves. To stay alive among the living. To honor the slightest feeling of discomfort, guilt, doubt, or the tiniest trace of our human vanity, but without which we would not be human. As long as we hear that voice, discreet and profound, we will remain at the task: that of existing among each other. With our ghosts, our secrets, our remorse. It is a voice below morals or beliefs. A people’s voice, a fraternal murmur which does not judge but which retains in us the little humanity that there is still to support, to protect, to question, before a thin and frail dam gives way within us. And take us.
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