Raise a Roar
by Deli Moussavi-Bock
I grew up with two views of that word. One came from watching Born Free and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, again and again. My brother and I, our eyes glued to the set. The other was the insolent roaring of people in proximity to me, roars worthy of tuning out.
I’d later recognize the latter as false roars. For much of my life I was surrounded by one or another person whose roar deafened. Rage roars, unexpected roars, anywhere, here, there, anywhere. Individuals roaring, trying to establish control, wanting me and others under their thumb. And it was just their pain they voiced. At one of my jobs, my female boss roared. Roared a roar when it made no sense. A searing roar. A missile full of rage, targeting anyone and everyone, on which to pin her self-hatred. Scores of male and female false roars, trying to decimate with the volume and the arrows of their words, unleashing fury for the pain they had lived and had not. A mushroom cloud of dead roars. This was my human context of roar: to harm and to hurt. And, an utter annoyance, to boot. Imposter roars masking pain, longing, sorrow, the-self-annihilating-you-will-feel-my-pain-as-much-as-I-do trauma drama roars when I’m just trying to eat my hamburger and live my life. Roars aimed to turn the inside pain out toward someone or something. A hit here. A hit there. Echoes reverberating every which way bullet sprays.
Enough, I said. I pulled in my real voice. It was far safer, tucked in the left drawer in my head. I had already picked up some bad habit false roars in what I justified as self-defense. So many years of having tucked in my true roar made it hard to discern my inner roar from the outside noise. The shit I had picked up along the way and thought was mine.
And then there was Born Free, Elsa the lion, and the wild creatures on Wild Kingdom. There was something about the musicality of both titles. Again, my brother and I, glued to the screen night after night. Watch a baby lion learn to roar. Now, that is a roar. A groan. Lions have such a wide range in their vocalizations, from ferocious roars heard for miles to a rumble to show they’re pleased.
I had to practice my real roar, in all its permutations, speaking from my heart, the way a lion cub tries on its roar. My roar came from the depth of me, swelled in me.
Growing up, I heard, if you roar in public, you will die. And I think about my first country and the fear they put into everyone and the saying that fear is a liar. Under the old regime, if you roared, you’d find yourself dead of a purported ski accident in the mountains. The new regime was more straightforward than that. Off with your head. So I played it safe for years. I learned the cost of roaring is high.
At the dinner table, we’d talk politics, the state of the world, of our two countries–and my parents swore I’d become a debater. I knew where my heart was in all of this. At school, my teachers knew I had something to say. But outside of home and school, my mouth would close and my immigrant head would nod. “Do you have any of your own opinions?” some would ask. I’d shrug. It was simply easier to swallow my words. I swallowed and sometimes choked on words because I learned that my real roar was trouble for some, inconvenient or too bold for others, too true or too strange. It simply had no place. So I hid it. I roared in my head, in countless conversations with myself. I lived my two lives, one on the outside and one within, urgently writing on stolen scraps of paper here and there, but for what, I didn’t know. Swallowing my words became habit. You always have a sore throat, people would say. Yet there were messages to my self in those words that had to be written no matter the cost.
I learned there were prices to pay for roaring within the family as well. I put off publishing my stories in my 20s because of the fear that I’d be disowned. Well, I was disowned anyway. That’s the funny thing with stuffing your roar. All the exhausting hard work of nodding, acquiescing, agreeing, bolstering, playing it safe to stay safe–and shit happens anyway.
I practiced listening for my roar. I listened for the shades of difference in roars; did they come from the heart or from the head? I grew up listening to Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin roar. I read Ghandi’s roars, I listened to Martin Luther King roar. To Henry David Thoreau. Willa Cather. Edith Wharton. And I thought: Wait… these are the people in whose company I would love to be. Self-possessed. Having flipped off fear. And yet in service to something… something higher than themselves.
Sarah Orne Jewett said, “Find your quiet center of life and write from that to the world.”
It took me years to steadily regain my roar, to hear her, let alone unchain her and let her out. I chucked the people in my life who insisted on their habit of false roars, rationalizing away the pain they inflicted. I made a ritual of finding my quiet center day after day, and I write to hear my roar more clearly. A firm, gentle, harmless, powerful roar. In the quiet space of my inner life, my roar reminds me: I was born free. I am free. My roar is the wild kingdom inside me. And as much as I feared that it would cost me, it was my true roar that brought me back with my family, closer than ever, after being disowned. It’s my true roar that has made every pivotal decision in my life, for good. It is my true roar that has kept me awake and alive in my own life.
I listen carefully to others’ roars, which reach my ears and heart. I sift and sift. My gut knows to discern true, heartfelt roars from the rest. They rise up from the center of the earth. When I walk into the woods, in the mountains, in meadows, by a river or a lake, I hear the roar of Earth in all of its modulations, her rumblings, the roar of the trees, however gentle, pine needles. I hear the roar of the birds that goes right through the depth of me. They were born to sing and for some, their lives depend on it. And the wind roars through it all. Rain, thunder, and quiet small brooks. And the almost imperceptible hum of Earth itself, breathing. The roar of my life narrates itself in these places and I am but a humble listener.
When I practice attuning my ears to my own true roar, a funny thing happens. I become attuned to the true roars of others, however quiet and imperceptible they seem at first. I receive them because I know where they’re coming from. A deep well. A true space. The truest space within each of us. That quiet center.
No, I’m not a seer. I am a human being with ears. Finally listening, paying attention. That is all. So now I regularly clear a space for myself, just for my roar, and invite it forth. And when it comes, often to my surprise, it’s not a solitary roar. When I clear that space to hear my own roar, it is life speaking with me. I am in fine company. I hear my sisters roar, in the Middle East, in the West, to the South, to the North. I hear men roar in the ways they want to, not how they’re expected to. The rumblings, the rising, the liberating roars. Roars transcending time and space. Hums, chants and incantations. The chorus of collective roars, oars in an open sea of energy, an opening, an opening into a life maybe we’ve never lived before. Moving us forward collectively. A frequency or a harmony we’ve forgotten, maybe. Quiet revolutions unfolding. Revolutions of the heart–the most permanent kind of turnover.
The gold, the gold, the alchemists’ gold is in the deep well below the fake roars, whether our own or that of others, that try to strangle our freedom.
I forgive myself for muffling my true roar for years.
I forgive myself.
May I never forget the jurisdiction I have over the wild kingdom of my heart, and that I, and each and every single one of us, are born free. And connected.
Keep an eye out for her soon-to-come blog, Deliwrites: deliwrites.wordpress.com.