a. lexicon.(of) silence.

Stephen Hawking has a new headband sort of thing with a matchbook-size computer that actually reads his brainwaves and spits them out, letter by letter, into words on a lit screen.  Without any speech or movement possible, Hawking exercises the only thing he has left, and has in spades, which is his brain; concentrating on spelling out his colossal thoughts in tiny portions, in distinct letters, invisible, but true.

I am interested in this drive to express what is in us:  memories, ironies, curious thoughts; love and humor and regret, connections that stir in any given moment.  So that when words are gone, we will do almost anything to get the inside out, to make the invisible seen, the silent things sing.

On Good Friday, I read a small message my father had posted in his church’s bulletin – the church where he has served for 25 years as Theologian in Residence, delivering golden-tongued lectures, sermons, and talks by the hundreds.  It read:  My illness will no longer permit me to speak. . . . When greeting me. . . please do not feel any awkwardness if I am unable to voice a reply.  About all I can offer is a hearty handshake for the men, a sly wink for the women, a quick hug for the kids and a smile for everyone.  Your encouragement means far more to me than I am able to express.  

For another man of the mind, like Hawking, my father is down to expressing that which is in his heart.  The wink, the handshake, the hug, the smile . . . all of these make the invisible visible, make connections alive and feelings light up.  They are no less than the thoughts captured on Hawking’s headband, these human tonalities.  They are no less than anything, really.  They make up the lexicon of the human heart.

When I was with my parents a couple of weeks ago, we pulled up to the dinner table and lowered our heads, as always, to voice our thanksgiving for the day.  My father began, his voice rising as it could, and made its way over familiar geography.  I realized, at some point, that I hadn’t understood a word he had said, but that I understood the mountains and valleys we were crossing.  The cadence and rhythm of his voice in blessing was utterly known to me.  I was catching it, not like a computer catches a brain-wave in patterns precise, but more as a heart catches a feeling.  The words no longer mattered; it was still, as ever, prayer.

So, I am learning a new lexicon.  I am paying attention to what is silent, inexpressible but true.  I am listening beneath words to the heartbeat. I am reaching for whatever is alive and real, and receiving the truth as I can, feeling my way there — wink by prayer, smile by sly little smile.

~ by Susan on 04/09/2012.

4 Responses to “a. lexicon.(of) silence.”

  1. So lovely.

  2. How beautiful this is. I love the phrase “a lexicon of silence.” I am continually amazed at the way you and Stephanie have coped with your parents’ diseases and how you’ve turned the experiences into words and essays and thus have enriched our own lives as well as brought more awareness. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this. Last December my Mother suffered a stroke which affected her speech and memory. While she can communicate fairly well at home, when in public it is different. In the doctor’s office, at church, or visiting with friends is very taxing. To our fellow congregants, Mother is known for loving to give – and receive – hugs. It occurred to me just this Sunday, that even though folks do not spend a lot of time making conversation with her, Mother still lights up when they stop to give her a hug! Your father’s ability to express so eloquently what I’ve tried to “put into words” has helped me understand what is happening with my own parent. I’d like to “borrow” his words (with credit, of course) to put in our church bulletin. Oft times, we long to reach out to someone else, but just can’t come up with the right words. This underscores the truth that sometimes the “right” words are no words at all! A meeting of hearts and spirits – however it is communicated – is rich, indeed!

  4. Rebecca,

    Thank you for your lovely words here. I have taken them to heart. I hope that you will feel free to adapt any of my father’s words to use in your own church bulletin. Perhaps it will ease people with your mother, as I believe it has done for people approaching my father.
    It is nice to know you are out there, and thank you for reading, for sharing your own experience.

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