22 February 2009

Forget the Words

My last post might have been a clue: I like words. I like pondering their true and assumed meanings, tossing around the various concepts they may carry. Though I usually prefer using simple words, I love exploring the etymology of words I come across in my diversified readings. I also enjoy examining the syntax of phrases I encounter, playing with various interpretations, weighing the context in which the are used.

I would imagine that my twisty life training has contributed to this love of language. The most formative years of my life, teens and young adulthood, were spend studying French literature, linguistics, philosophy, Latin (good old Cicero was scrutinised for hours), ancient Greek (yes, I am talking of the Iliad and the Odyssey, years before I ever heard of James Joyce’s Dublin version of the adventures of Ulysses, of the sage Plato, and of these masters of classic theatre: Aristophanes and Sophocles). Unfortunately, as I did not keep up these two ancient no-longer spoken tongues, I would be incapable now of deciphering any text. Pity, considering the endless hours I spend thumbing my door-step sized dictionaries! And can you imagine a seventeen year old spending a total of eight hours a week, yes, eight full hours, listening to a teacher exploring the minds of the Great Thinkers? I remember producing some memorable essays on existentialism, and wish I could read them now, to see how far I have travelled since!

Then I turned my attention to the world of Business, Marketing, Supply Chain. Very different, clear, crisp meanings, with little ambiguity. I now spend my “productive” days drawing documents with legal weight, where all interpretations must be considered and ruled out until only one remains, the one “we” want.

But it is not all about words. My work also includes talking at length, trying to understand what others want, what they mean, and what they do not want me to ask them; trying also to reassure them, to convince them, to reel them in. And there the choice of words used, those I hear and those I speak, is important of course, but not nearly as the tone of voice, the unspoken, the body-language, the facial hints, the darting eyes, the unsettled fingers twisting a pen, the emotions almost visible below the surface of the conversation. I have learnt over time to use my tamed yet very real fiery temperament to emphasis points and drive ideas home. I have learnt over time to use my naturally numerous hand gestures (I “speak” with my hands) to underscore and strengthen my message. Words are a part of any communication process, but often only a very small part.

Why this meandering? I was privileged earlier this week to be given a demonstration in communications by my youngest teacher. In three chapters:

Chapter One. Picture this: early in the week, just after 7 o’clock in the morning of the night before, when I babysat Cathal and stayed overnight to cut on the commuting home late at night and back in the city before dawn. I, sitting on the sofa, wrapped around a cup of strong, steaming, freshly brewed black coffee, definitely not awake. The Mammy, sitting on the same sofa, similar cup in hand, beady sleepy eyes. And Cathal between us, chatting away, full of the joys of life after a night’s sleep. I get up, pull on my jacket, gather my bags, car keys, turn to the pair of them and wave, saying “bye, see you Friday”. And there it happened, and for the first time directed at someone else than the Dad (until then, he had been the only recipient): Cathal’s little hand shooting up, palm turned towards me, the little fist opening and closing rhythmically, while a big happy smile lights up his face. No words needed here. I melted, and fought hard to leave.

Chapter Two. I arrive in Cathal’s house Friday evening, say the usual hello, talk to him, to the Mammy, give him time to know I am there. After about five minutes I take him on my lap, facing me. I venture a kiss. And then he lunges forward, grabs my cheek on one side (some strength in his pinching!) and my hair on the other, pulls my face towards his, open his month, and glues it on my skin, holding me closer, and closer still… after a few minutes, my whole face - cheeks, nose, chin, eye lids - was covered in baby dribble and we were both smiling! Big melt down in my heart…

Finally Chapter Three. Same Friday evening, some time later, me sitting on the same sofa. Cathal sitting on my knees, facing me. We do the usual “the wheels of the bus…” follow by “row your boat”. He stares at me throughout. Intense concentration. I repeat the “wheels of the bus”, all three verses of it, with all the gestures, tickles, and what nots. Cathal’s part of the play has not changed. Ok so, let’s add. I say, while using the Lamh sign, “again?” and, not waiting, repeat the full song. At the end I wait a while, and then say-sign “again?” And... a little left hand grabs my right one, the signing one, and shakes it, twice. I say and sign “again?” once more. And he shakes it – again! Twice, as the sign. No doubt. So we repeated the song, the gestures, the signing of "again", then the song, the gestures, the joined hand-on-hand signing of "again", on, and on, and on... Cathal was not signing, he was making me sign! And getting his entertainment in the process!

Clever boy!

Forget the words. Indeed, who needs them?


Mel said...

Brought a tear to my eye Nan P. I LOVE those baby kisses! Luke grabs my hair and latches on to my chin. Sometimes he gnaws on it- no teeth yet thank goodness.

By the way- I am working on your suggestion of photos of the new house. Jsut need to get a day when it is tidy! Since Nick commented about me being the weather woman it has not stopped raining...so house is full of kid toys and I would like to pretend I live in some sort of order!

Keep wondering- how do you pronounce Cathal? It is not a name we have over here.

Nan P. said...

Hi Mel,

I will not comment on the weather, not to jinx it further...! So we will wait for the photos.

Cathal is pronounced: Ka-Hal. It is what we call here a "good Irish name"! ;-)

Jeffrey Goble said...


Anonymous said...

Wonderful writing Pascal. I can really imagine that scene you describe of Cathal waving good-bye. Who would want to go to work after that :-)
Cathal's Auntie Maggie

jazzygal said...

Oh Wow. Magic Moments. Enjoy and treasure.
There's a lot about communication that we take for granted. Our special kids need to be taught the basics....but it is SO amazing (even more so) when they "get it".

Well done to Cathal....clever boy indeed. XX J

Catherine's Mum said...

Hi Nan P.

You certainly do have a lovely way with words.

What a moment to behold! I don't know how you managed to tear yourself away from your wonderfully clever Cathal.

That is a vision that will remain forever in your heart and mind.

God Bless your little prince!