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Beyond Words

I seem to remember some sobbing in the corner. This was years ago - many years ago - of course, so it's hard for me to say, but I whenever I revisit the scene, that sobbing is there. It's my house. Or what is the house I used to live in, but I had moved away almost three years before. Here, though, I'm back, and there are people milling all about, some in the kitchen, the family room, the dining area. Conversations drift by me like fresh ghosts.

I don't know most of these people. But they seem to know me. And almost all of them knew my mother, whose memorial service was less than an hour before.

My father sits in a chair in the corner, looking a little tired, looking a little stunned. This day was the first day I can remember in my life ever having seen him cry, just a little while ago at the service. Now, though, he simply looks malnourished. The ambling procession of people through the room seems almost endless. Condolences are given. Words of comfort and solace. Tissue paper on a large gash of the soul.

Sometimes when people are just hanging around there comes a point where everyone stops talking at once, only for a moment. Such silences can be eerie, and they usually don't last very long. One such dropped down on us now as I sat there looking at my father. He was looking across the room at a lady I'd never seen before, and as she looked at him she said, "Sam, I just don't know what to say."

My father sometimes has a practical wisdom about him, but practical wisdoms sometimes hurt in the learning. He raised both of his hands, palms up, and gave her a look of total resignation. "What is there to say?" he said.

And that was how I learned, truly learned, that there are some things that go beyond words.

Our lives, it seems, are free-flowing cascades of experiences piled on each other in incomprehensible ways. Whatever it is we believe about these experiences, we can be assured of this: they are in and of themselves always true.

This type of truth, though, this REAL truth, the truth that gives hue and texture to our lives, can't really be articulated. In times of grief, we feel a need to call on the right words to give understanding or to ease the pain a little bit, but we end up using cliches and catch phrases, and nodding thanks to our friends who don't know what else to do. Later, we turn to the poets, because they have come closer than anyone to expressing what we feel.

And by this I'm reminded of the Book of Job, where it is described that three rulers visited Job at the height of his suffering, the result of a wager between God and Satan. They didn't speak at first (concealing the other half of their agenda), but sat and wept with him for seven days and nights. They understood, it seems, that no words would suffice, that words would actually be less than useless, and they came to share the experience of the tragedies which had befallen their friend.

It works both ways, not just with the grief and suffering. There are no adequate terms to encompass the truth behind the look in your lover's eyes. You can't really verbalize the wonder you feel when, for the first time, your baby sleeps in your arms. No essay will ever touch on the moment in your heart when you take the hand of your spouse and feel thirty years of familiar warmth there -- or when your father throws up his hands in total resignation.

It's the natural truth of simple things. That's why sometimes I look at my very special person, not saying a word. She'll glance up and catch me staring at her, then smirk and say, "What?" I say nothing. She already knows. The truth is in the moment.

And when I have to say goodnight to my son, and I give him the traditional hug and squeeze, whispering "I love you" in his ear...sometimes, just sometimes, as he starts to pull away, I hug and squeeze just a little bit harder, just a fraction of a moment longer. Because it goes beyond words. And it says it all, much better.

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