“You may be pleased to know that the professional confirmed most of what you had said.” His words took me aback… it sounded suspiciously like…
“You’re saying I was right?” It is almost unheard of for my son to compliment me or admit such a thing. Cooking, perhaps… ‘Mum-made’ being apparently infinitely better than ‘homemade’…but…
“No!” he says with an expression of utter disgust, “I’m saying you weren’t wrong.” That is as close as it will ever get, voluntarily and excluding the occasional slip.
I will respond with either a reciprocal quip or a melodramatic gesture. We know what we mean, even though we have, on a good many occasions, shocked innocent bystanders with our banter… a mutual exchange of grandiose insults that can appear, according to one dear friend, to border on the abusive. It is all in the tone and intent and, critically, the feel we have for each other and the knowledge of the underlying love that we seldom express verbally in any other way.
It is an odd thing, when I think about it. My sons and I are all very ready to reach out a hand or give a hug when needed… we all shed tears when moved by emotion or beauty; you would not call us overtly tactile in our demonstrations of affection, yet nor are we reserved. Yet when it comes to words and emotions, three articulate people seem to have trouble actually saying what we mean. Partly, I think, it is a northern thing, but there is more to it than that.
Speaking for myself I can write what is in my heart. It was even easier in French long ago when the words seemed one step removed from reality… or in poetry where the flowery form allows a more evocative use of language. But to come straight out with it, to find those words which open one heart to another, face to face and eye to eye? I can’t do it. So I revert to humour and the vague insults, and so do my sons.
I’ve tried to analyse it… where did it come from and why have I passed this along to my children? I suppose an undemonstrative family laid the foundations. I cannot ever remember being hugged as a child, though I must have been. I can only remember having to hold hands when out walking and that was for safety. Yet there was no lack of love, it was simply shown in different ways and it was seldom spoken. With my own sons there were always cuddles, snuggled up reading together, an armful of child either side. There were always hugs. There still are. Yet there were times when the emotions were too raw, when there was too much grief to put into words, for words made the hurt real and left us wide open and vulnerable. Perhaps it was then that our words became guarded and fear stilled out tongues?
Three words that say way too little, but have to serve to say so much; overused so often, under-meant too frequently and very often coming with a question that demands the reassurance of reciprocity instead of being simply given and accepted as a gift… we seldom use them to each other. They slip out occasionally, taking us by surprise in moments of spontaneous affection when emotion overrides the guarded tongue, and finds expression in the simple phrase. Yet perhaps there is no need to verbalise what we know in the traditional manner. I used to envy those with the facility to turn a beautiful phrase at the right moment. These days I would rather ‘be there’ and do the right thing rather than say it. We are not alone in this reluctance to repeat a mantra of affection until it loses all meaning. When it matters, the words come, and it never matters what those words may be when they come straight from the heart. Words, after all, are but a small part of the way we communicate heart to heart.