Saturday, February 11, 2012

Euphemistically Speaking

Dear readers (all twelve of you), I have been absent for a while as I adjust to the working world. In addition to building The Karuna Project's private practice, I am a Bereavement Counselor at Holy Name Hospice now, several days a week. It is wonderful, sometimes painful but very meaningful work. I hope to be more present on this blog in the future!

Words, words, words.  We all use them but they often mean subtly different things to each of us.  Words are affected by interpretation, culture, by the books we read or do not read. Choreographer Pina Bausch said that "words can't do more than just evoke things" adding that this was the purpose of art.

This is why I love poetry.  The literal words, distilled down to a minimal essence of expression, evoke more than inform. In poetry, there is a visceral resonance that speaks to the heart.  Reading a poem, a curious and literally minded colleague asked me, "but what does it MEAN?"  I dislike picking apart the meaning of poems. Listen, flow with them. FEEL what it means to you.  It's like staring at a Rothko painting; at first it is just a blue canvas, a pretty color. You think, what does it mean? Open your heart, your eyes, enter the color. Movement exits there, deep blue washes you. The painting becomes a meditation, awakening feelings, associations, stillness. This resonance cannot be described, even though I am attempting to do so.  It must be felt.

Grief is like that too. Someone said, "I cannot speak about this, it is too deep." Talking helps, but no words can really describe the dark abyss, the agitation, fear, the dissonance of life after a death. And we are hindered by a habit of using euphemisms that purposely obscure grief.  He "passed away."  This might be a good descriptor of a quiet, peaceful death but it doesn't work for a sudden one. She's "gone to a better place."  This is comforting to many people, but infuriating to some. I "lost" my husband.  A woman in one group asked testily, "why do we say he is lost?"  He's not a set of keys or one of my three pairs of glasses that have gone missing.

Good question.  "Loss" refers to what WE have lost – our partner, lover, friend, mother, sister, daughter. The loss of this relationship is what we mourn. The loss is of whom we are, our role, even our purpose. The hole in the middle of our lives where that person is not creates a place in which we wander, yearning, seeking a way to repair the chasm into which we plunged at the moment of death.

So why talk at all? Words are what we use to build a bridge.  Words are how we connect to each other, and when we speak, we also evoke. The position of our body, whether or not we are making eye contact, the tone of voice, our eyes welling up with tears,  color our words. These subtle clues create a responsive resonance. The listener, understanding and sympathizing, evokes a metaphorical buoy we can hold on to.

Maybe words have no literal truth at all. The Heart Sutra of Buddhism says form is emptiness, emptiness is form.  I use my words to reach you and perhaps they do.  Or maybe each word leaves my mouth and disappears into nothingness, flitting by you like a wisp of air, barely noticed. While I am no longer inside the chasm, I sometimes sit on its edge, dangling my feet down into the dark. If you want to know about it, maybe you could just sit next to me for a while. Sometimes I just can't speak about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment