The Quiet Storm

I was in Chicago for a convening with six high ranking officials. I hadn’t said much all day. I was quiet and shy. I felt intimidated in the presence of these accomplished individuals.

As the meeting drew to a close, one official turned his attention to me, “Santi you’re really quiet over there.” I laughed nervously. Another turned to me, “Santi, you quiet storm you.” She chuckled as she said this and the entire room burst into laughter. I had never heard that saying before. Nervously, I laughed along, but I thought about what she said.

What is the meaning of a “quiet storm?” A storm is fierce, it sweeps away all excess with gusts of wind, it washes away undesired silt, dirt, and soot with sweeping rain, and it subdues even the meanest of us with its lightning and thunder. How can such an awesome force be silent?

Silence can be many things in many contexts. Silence is uncomfortable. Silence is soothing. Silence is empty. Too often we feel the need to reach for stimulation, and distract ourselves to sooth our angst. On the worst of days I catch myself checking my phone every few minutes, I talk just to avoid the nothingness, and I turn on the TV to feel accompanied. I do this because I know that when there is silence, I have to listen to myself and I don’t always like what I hear.

It’s easy to distract yourself and ignore what occurs within. When you distract yourself for too long, a fight begins to brew between doubt and confidence. The longer you remove yourself from this tension, the stronger doubt becomes. Doubt is resilient. When you ignore it, doubt strikes. It marches forward and gobbles up whatever is in its way. It drags a dark looming cloud overhead and washes away any trace of the enemy. It sweeps through the landscape with indiscriminate force.

When you finally take a moment to look within, you find that confidence has dwindled. But, slowly you begin to make sense of things. “Not everything is your fault. Don’t take things personally. Don’t overanalyze. Look at all the meaningful things you achieved.” The process of self-soothing, of putting things in perspective takes time and effort. And, it requires silence. For a few minutes at your desk, in your journal, or on the commute home, or simply sitting in your room, you experience silence and take time to think. As this happens, doubt fades and confidence grows.

Doubt and confidence need each other. Doubt keeps us humble and grounded, while confidence instills belief in ourselves and grows our ability. Doubt nourishes our moral compass and washes away arrogance, while confidence feeds us with energy and gives us the conviction to act. Doubt dominates, then confidence fights back: it’s an inevitable process, a force of nature. But without silence and a concerted effort to look within, we cannot find the right balance. And, without balance we risk falling past doubt and into diffidence, and past confidence into arrogance.

That day in Chicago I was quiet because I was afraid. I felt inferior and out of place. My silence was not for focus on my notes; it was a respite from something more difficult. The winds were swirling inside while I sat at that table, and when the group laughed, the rain unleashed. I withdrew into the quite comfort of my own head. But the quiet storm doesn’t last forever. It swept through me that night, but it came to an end. It led me to this blog, and it led me to perspective.

I don’t know if this is what the “quiet storm” saying means, and I still don’t know what that lady in Chicago meant by it. But, now it’s mine.

The quiet storm is unstoppable. You can’t prevent it and you can’t make it go away. Sometimes it lingers, sometimes it quickly passes through, but every storm starts the same way: with a menacing silence.

 

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI
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Home Sweet Home

Is home where we reside, or where the heart is bound?

Is home where we sleep, or where dignity is sound?

Is home virtuous if it shelters deep fears?

Is home bittersweet if it is where we shed tears?

Is home a simple asset bought and sold for a price?

Is home really home if its payment is for life?

Is home worthwhile if it holds us down?

Is home an excuse not to leave town?

Is home still home if it is where we fight?

Is home still sweet in the absence of light?

Is home the definition of achieved goals?

Is home really the best food for our souls?

 

What if home made you feel like you didn’t belong?

And even when you tried, it made you feel wrong?

Do you have to make the most of something you don’t like?

Or can we walk away and avoid our elder’s strike?

Do we have an obligation to ourselves or to this place?

If home makes us sad can we leave without a trace?

 

Maybe home means more than a place to reside,

Maybe home is a concept, not a place where to bide,

Maybe home is defined by that which we cannot see,

Maybe home is where we feel meaningful and free,

 

Home Sweet Home, your meaning is elusive,

Your qualities are mixed, my feelings inconclusive,

Despite your gestures of warmth and affection,

Here we find ourselves on the verge of defection.

 

This poem was submitted to The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development as part of their Housing For All writing competition.

 

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI
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Those Among Us

There is a small group among us. When these people speak up, they are judged. When these people say something wrong, they are punished. When these people step out of line, they are questioned. Not from without, but from within. This group doesn’t know what they are feeling inside. They are different in that way.

These people are misunderstood. These people are underdogs.

Its overwhelming to feel like you shouldn’t be doing something all the time, to go out in the street and feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, to feel the gaze of a stranger pierce through your chest, to sit in public and feel the spotlight on you, to show up to work and wonder if your colleagues respect you, to order a coffee and sense the annoyance of the cashier, to tensely scurry by those who are older and more powerful and wonder what they think of you.

Every moment, every detail, every step is filled with doubt. That is what being an underdog is.

Imagine your default state: you wake up every day and you find yourself in a hole. But the day doesn’t have to be about that. You can fight your way through the day, slug your way through self-doubt, and inch towards a sense of belonging. It requires everything. It initiates a raging battle inside. You muster everything you have, your pride, your confidence, and your integrity, by any means necessary. You write in your journal, you read about other underdogs, you create rituals; you remind yourself what is meaningful in your life. And even after all of these efforts, it’s still not enough. At some point in the day you lose focus. On good days it happens just once or twice for an hour or two. By the end of it, you are exhausted. You come home thinking about that position you took, that suggestion you made, that moment of vulnerability, and you wonder whether you did right.

Walking alone in the world with this burden can break the strongest among us. It will happen not with a thud, but with silent compliance. It happens when we stop speaking up, when we realize that our questions fall on deaf ears, when we succumb to the pressure to conform, when the expectations of your peers is too much to bear, when the voices of our better angels are shouted down by our demons. During these moments we lose sight of our purpose and capitulate. And everyday we wonder if its time to drift into quiet anguish.

But underdogs don’t have to walk alone. We can find each other and support each other, not through superficial positivity, but through vulnerability. We can find a common cause, one that connects us and brings out the best in us. We can pick each other up when we think we have had enough, we can make each other understand that we are not alone, we can challenge each other, and above all, we can be honest with each other.

This is what La Ceiba means to me. It is the cause that inspires meaning. It is the place where we form our ranks and get to work. It is the group of people I trust most.

 

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (www.santiagosueiro.com)
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