A Question of Words

Time passes quickly for me here, as I drift in a sea of sounds that I wish to tether into words, into sentences, into meaning. My mind, awash in a dark, dark water, grasps for clarity, courage, a familiar noise? I squint through most conversations, but not from the sun, as from my effort to understand.

And in this space that I love to participate, dominate, even, I am wordless. This tortured silence frustrates, embarrasses. How could I be so foolish not to know these words, and what are they anyway? Doubts of my purpose arise, and the ever-present paranoia of illiteracy taunts — when in darkness, laughter often ushers self-consciousness, the sly cousin of fear.

My fear is not solitary, though; my lack of word is not only my deficiency. All conversations, at first, center around this bridge-less gap that everyone seems unsure how to cross. We are all less smart than we want to be, less adept, less sure of ourselves in our excesses of silence. I am the cause for this, an understanding that pangs at my hatred of burden.

But this lostness, this lack of place in words, it gives way to other journeys of comprehension that I have not known. Conversation smooths when I soften words into sounds, and dull my strain for their meanings. I hear feeling in tone, opinion in face. I am seeing eyes for the first time, and hands, too. Mine, empty of my constant connection, rest and read the lives before me. My thoughts slow, quiet and stop; is this me, learning to listen?

Space is pregnant with intention, and silence, even from complete lack, seems infrequent. The connections – the most courageous connections – arise with acceptance of reciprocal illiteracy. Perhaps it stems from years of stumbling through conversations with ventilated patients, I don’t know. But words mean little in these moments, falling away to deeper ideas, stronger bonds of a kind of language that I’ve ignored in my own life for too long. Kindness deafens content – amazing, to remember this.

I am the patient here. I am the Chinese woman who can’t consent without a flippant young translator. I am the ventilated man who doesn’t know how to ask for the call bell. I am the Russian family that has no words to ask for cause of death.

Incredible, to find answers with my silence, not my questions. Incredible, to be the dumb foreign person in the corner, my mind full of thoughts without words for my mouth. Incredible, to wonder now, perhaps for the first time, just how important words actually are.

3 thoughts on “A Question of Words

  1. I agree; this was great! I could feel that loss of the ability to communicate. It reminds me of the many times I’ve cared for patients who were not familiar with the English language, or unable to communicate due to a stroke or any number of things that impair communication. I still like to think that a smile, kindness and a caring attitude can speak universally understood volumes. Thank you for your eloquent words and the reminder of the importance of real communication!

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