Mark Twain’s wife never liked his constant use of profanity but she couldn’t do anything about it. Once she tried: She came down the stairs, looked him squarely in the eyes and hollered every cussword she ever heard him use. He looked at her calmly and responded: “My dear, how I love you; You have the words all right, but you just can’t sing the tune.”
During my first trip to Cuba the old man Mario used to spend hours telling me stories about his days on the high seas. I didn’t understand a word he said – I barely spoke Spanish at the time, let alone trying to understand what Cubans try to pass off as Spanish – But it didn’t matter – It wasn’t the words, the content – It was the melody, the tonal changes, harmony and rhythm. It wasn’t out of politeness that I spent hours listening to him. I really enjoyed it, and I got a lot out of our “talks.”
The great pianist, when asked how he could play those notes so beautifully, responded: “It’s not the notes I play that are beautiful – it’s the spaces between them.”
She spoke Spanish, I English, and neither of us knew more than a few words in the other’s language. Yet we “spoke” volumes to each other, and we came to know each other well, communicating more effectively than I do with those who speak my own idiom. We couldn’t argue about stupid things that didn’t matter, and whatever needed to be communicated always was.
Half the people in the coffee shop, no- more than half, are on their cellphones or I-Pods, Facebook or MySpace. Why am I the only one anachronistically looking around and wanting to smile with someone? Virtual has become real, and vice versa. Nobody is here anymore.
I’ve been watching that couple at the other table. It’s been almost an hour now and still neither of them has said as much as one word to the other. They just sit in silence, drinking their coffee. I can’t tell. Can’t tell if they are so much in love and know each other so well that they don’t need to converse any more; or if they hate each other’s guts; or, and this would be my bet – maybe they have nothing to say to each other any more and are just each other’s habit now.
I have learned from the deaf how to hear, the blind how to see, and the speechless what to say.
I don’t feel heard anymore. Should I holler? Is this the space where nobody can hear you scream?
So it’s just that sometimes I wish you would just shut up. Just be quiet, please, and let me look at you and touch you. We can know each other so much better in the spaces between the notes.