Look into my eyes.
Now listen. Look ... and listen.
Listen to what you see. Not what you hear. There are no words.
Perhaps sometimes it is as simple as that.
But often it is not.
So many times I have been with people I care about. And there are no words.
And the silence can be painful.
I actually feel the ache as something within me stretches for words that need to be said.
But I can’t find them.
I wish I could jam a spout into my heart and let the feelings pour out.
Then all could see. Clearly. What I am trying to say.
Instead, I hear myself breathing, inhaling and exhaling the awkward silence.
So I spit out sounds to fill the space. Familiar sounds that are accepted.
Everyone seems relieved if the silence goes away. We all do this, I think.
But perhaps we try too hard. To make words.
Just being there speaks volumes. Showing up is a statement.
A touch, a hug, is a connection.
Still the need to tell others how we feel is compelling. Demanding at times.
And often a struggle. Our efforts feel clumsy instead of perfect.
Perhaps that is because our feelings, what we want to say and show, become bigger than words.
And yet, I can turn to words now to help explain this dilemma. To illustrate and paint a picture, a scene, where we’ve all been.
The words were penned by Albert Garcia and are part of his book of poems titled “A Meal Like That” (Brick Road Press, 2015).
With his permission, I share his poem titled “Park Bench.”
There should be a park bench.
We’ll sit next to each other,
watching a man throw a tennis ball
to his yellow lab, sending
and retrieving the dog
whose loyalty to task is clear
to both of them. I’ll say something
to start, something I’ve wanted
to say for years, words I’ve never before
been able to put together,
and you’ll hear them perfectly,
my words like a child’s wooden blocks
you can hold in your hands,
turning them for their modest gleam.
What you say comes as a breeze
that sinks in my skin,
not warm, not cool, just
what I needed to feel and hear,
like bath water, like tea. Then
we sit, and the dog
lopes out again to retrieve
his ball. The man waits
for what he knows is coming,
and the breeze, if there,
moves between us, back
and forth, silently.
Dr. Garcia is interim associate vice chancellor of instruction for the Los Rios Community College District in California.
I was pulled into his message. I had no trouble seeing myself on that bench with a number of people, family and friends.
I asked him what inspired his poem.
“I don’t have an exact recollection except for the fact that I was wanting to show how we struggle with communication and that our attempts with language often aren’t as simple as we would want them to be,” he said.
“It’s kind of a fantasy poem about perfect communication between two people, which, of course, rarely occurs.”
Yes, perfect rarely occurs. And it's perfect we seek.
So often we walk away from those moments of closeness feeling like something was left unsaid.
Or not said enough.
I think back often to the days I had with my dad, nestled into a small fishing boat.
We didn't discuss the trials of life or national politics. We didn't delve into deep feelings.
We fished. Casting different directions but with common purpose and focus.
I do wonder if more should have been said. After all, being in that boat was not just about fishing.
No, I think we should all take a lesson from the park bench.
We've all been there ... with people that matter.
Across a kitchen table or in a restaurant booth. Sharing a couch or next to each other in the car.
In a sad chair by a hospital bed or in crowded around in a small nursing home room.
Saying goodbye at an airport or standing in a line of grieving family and friends.
We all have these moments. Together. Well, pieces trying to fit together.
Always searching for words. Sounds to interrupt the silence.
Yes, think of the park bench.
As we sit together and watch together let’s enjoy the breeze that we stir and share.
Let's embrace the silence we control. Lean into its comfort.
And when the time is right, if needed, turn to me.
Wherever we are. Whatever the noise around us.
I will look into your eyes. And you will look into me.
And together, we will listen.
- LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.