Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just a Word...

The Beautiful Imperfections of Talk

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind does move
Silently, invisibly.

William Blake

I remember a good fifteen years ago now, I was asked to do some therapy work with children, youth and families connected to a First Nation community school in British Columbia. One of my first ‘clients’ was a young man, perhaps fourteen years old. This young fellow hardly talked at all. I was supposed to engage in ‘therapy’ with him (something that seems to necessitate some form of conversation) yet he wouldn’t/couldn’t talk, at least not much. To most questions I asked him he responded either with silence, or with a shrug of the shoulders and a small grunt of “Don-know!” Yet, this silence never felt like a form of resistance, the boy seemed to enjoy being with me. Not knowing what else to do I would go for walks with him in the forest around his school. We would find a log, we would sit and listen to the chickadees and the jays, we would notice the various forms of life in movement around us. Little was said, yet, it felt like something good was occurring. After a few weeks of engaging with him in this manner (and feeling most guilty because I wasn’t doing anything that looked like ‘therapy’) I saw the boy’s mother in the school hallway. Upon seeing me, she called out my name, ran toward me and gave me a warm and appreciative embrace. Then she thanked me for, as she put it, “working with my boy.”

Clearly, something was happening that was perceived as helpful. But, it was happening within the silences, within and through a very minimal talk. Something good was occurring as we walked together, as we looked together at life in movement around us. For, we both had bodies which could move and walk, we both had eyes which could see, and, when these bodies and eyes found ways to move in response to each other, in shared actions, something good was created. The whole meaning of talk was transformed for me, talk become something inextricably connected with our joint walking and seeing. Never transcendent to the walking and the seeing.

I have learned to value the connection between talk and life, but, even more, I now see talk embracing a certain responsibility, even an obligation, to return to the lived and walked life. A talking which returns -- always returns to a lived world. Deleuze put it succinctly, reflecting upon Nietzsche’s thoughts, suggesting that life enables thought, therefore thought should in turn affirm life -- instead of mangling life, as it all too often does.

I return to this young man and to many more like him. I return to his mother, to the lines that pull upon her heart, lines of love -- mother to son. For in these places the pull of connection between word and life is strong. Words are called upon, but they are called to respond to the movements of a life, the pulls of a love, to the appreciations of a mother’s embrace.

Yet, at the same time, while words may be called upon, may even be required, they never, ever feel adequate, they never encapsulate all that is sensed in the walk and the life. And, in a way, this seems most appropriate, for the privilege is given first of all to the walk and the life, not to the words. Perhaps words are always secondary in that they are tools for honouring life, for celebrating it, for responding to it. They do not capture it, they can never truly dominate or manipulate it. Words emerge from life, are conceived and delivered by life, and therefore are called to return to life, even though the return is always insufficient.

Words, as obligations, as responsibilities -- not to tear and destroy, not to find fault, not to count sins, not to account for apparent deficits, not to diminish (there is far too much of all of this), but rather -- to enter into responsive relationships, to honour, to love, to count loves, to receive and respond to gifts in abundance. To do all of this, to the best of one’s abilities, knowing all the while the very impossibility of ever truly getting it complete and right.

Words therefore become pragmatic and clumsy tools, rough-hewn, which in spite of all these limitations, return to give honour to life. Words give. Words become gifts. They become simple, handmade gifts, carefully crafted, and anything but perfect. And they must NOT be perfect, for the perfection would tear the very lines of connection within the gift.

So, in light of these responsibilities and obligations, just a word -- a word of thanks, for all these young men... and their moms.

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