The Habit of Thinking

Willa CatherImage via Wikipedia



He had grown up with the conviction it was beneath his dignity to explain himself…. On the farm you said you would or you wouldn’t, that Roosevelt was all right or that he was crazy. You weren’t supposed to say more unless you were a stump speaker….if you tried to say more, it was because you liked to hear yourself talk. Since you never said anything, you didn’t form the habit of thinking. One of Ours, Willa Cather, 1922. (Pulitzer Prize 1923)

It has always been a puzzle to me…the thoughts that went on inside a silent person’s head. There surely was not a jangle of information crawling around in there…surely not. Being married as I was to a man that never made a reckless comment or even felt the need to explain himself, I often felt the heartache of being shut out.

I am dying now and he has been gone for…how long has it been? Even thought he has been out of my sight for all these years his inability or unwillingness to speak only the most necessary of words has stung. Still wondering what he would have thought of my colored hair or choice of clothes, I hesitated. I heard the silence inside my head. He had never said one way or the other then so, after he was gone, my life of words remained very much the same. The most I ever got out of him was “It’s alright!” Because there was never a word of approval, I always thought him unhappy. He did tell me once that if I was not doing things right he would let me know. I waited but I guess he changed his mind about doing that.

So now I am wondering if he actually did even notice. Was there nothing that he felt worth saying? Roosevelt was “alright” but motor cars were for other people. He never felt the need to explain. Perhaps because he never spoke he never grew or learned. Yes it could be that he even forgot how to explain where things or places were…he knew but could not give me directions to their place.

In the beginning I had been very drawn to him. I did have an education and had begun my life in a house where a lively discussion or argument was expected. We talked about books and tried to understand from a distance what life must be like in New York or even Paris. The field of possibilities did not stop at the horizon. There was more to life than what we knew…or at least that is what we believed. So when he began courting me, I thought that he must already know the answers. He seemed so sure and he courted me with candy and music.

He owned a business, had his own coach and horses, and his mother thought him a very responsible, loving son. I believed in his mind.

Now as I reflect on our life, I know that he was what I saw. Nothing more. It makes me sad even now.


Three Word Wednesday

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10 thoughts on “The Habit of Thinking

  1. I grew up in a family with a father like you describe. He was very cautious with his words. It has only been later in life that he has opened up. He is now 83 and I have learned more about him and his life, dreams, and disappointments in the past 5 years than I ever knew in my previous 53 years with him. It is difficult living with a silent man. You spoke well of the pain in this post.

  2. Wow. I can relate in that my father wasn't one who spoke much, to the frustration of my mother. This is a powerful retrospective – if it wasn't for "fiction" specified at the end, I would have thought, from the power of the words, that this was your own, autobiographical.

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