Friday, January 15, 2010
Words about no words
This is what it looked like at the beach this morning, and this is what I was going to write about today. But I'm not going to talk about the beach. A fine writer once wrote (and I paraphrase; forgive me) that the single most important fact a person could know about her was that her father died when she was very young. This notion resonated with me, because I believe with her that the single most important fact anyone could ever know about me is that my mother died when I was eleven years old. And everything changed. I mean EVERYTHING, and I mean FOREVER. But in the year or so following her death, whenever anyone found out, or that worst of all horrors happened and I had to say the words, "My mother died," very kind, well-meaning, empathatic people would say, "Oh, I am so sorry" or "How terrible for you," or worst and most infuriating of all: "I understand how you feel". This last made me murderous. I knew they meant well; I was mature for an 11-year old, and had younger siblings, some of whose care now fell, for better or worse to me. But no one knew how I felt. No one could possibly have known, not for one second, how I felt.
In my grown-up mind, I know now that they were searching for something to say. That they felt terrible and awkward and often wanted desperately to be comforting. And as this year has been a particularly painful one of losses (Rodney's dad, our friends Eric and Debbie's son Alex, not yet out of his 20s, and finally our widely loved Claude Sinatsch, of Julia Child party fame - I do promise to tell you that story, my dears) the feeling of wanting, needing, desperately, some words of comfort to offer is all too fresh in my heart. But the truth, as we all know, is that there are no words. No combination of words, however casually or carefully composed, can really offer balm to the heart. There is only standing together, laughing or crying, or both at once, helping, and remembering. We find ourselves wishing for them, praying that they will spring to our lips, miraculously allowing us to make the suffering a little less. But it doesn't happen: it can't. There are no words.
And so my heart goes out to the people of Haiti, along with the heart of the world. I am profoundly grateful that our friend Ron, who lives and works in the Dominican Republic, will be traveling tomorrow with some of his co-workers to Haiti to help erect cell towers and do, as he said, "...whatever needs done". I am grateful that his daughter Heidi, a nurse, is traveling with Doctors Without Borders to offer medical help. I am so glad to know that some of us will be standing together with the people of Port-au-Prince, crying, laughing, helping and remembering, because that's what we can do. And because there are, simply, no words.
Posted by Angela Christensen