“We’re just talking about our husbands’ schedules. We’re both <FIRST RESPONDER TYPE> widows!”
Option A: Smash her into little pieces.
Option B: Watch her perky little smile dissolve as I sympathize with the absence of her husband on holidays.
Option C: Gracefully and delicately move the conversation along to save her from mortal embarrassment so that the person beside me can stop cringing and resume breathing.
Option C, it is.
Words are curious things. For thousands and thousands of years our ability to communicate, in an array of dialects and accents and languages so diverse and beautiful that we will never in our own lifetimes experience anything more than a morsel of the table laid out before us, has shaped who we are as beings. We’ve used them to form bonds, to slay our enemies and to hurt the ones we love. We’ve shaped governments and societies, and we’ve celebrated the deep power of faith and religion through them. We’ve won wars, lost wars. We’ve put shape to theory, created fantasies and realities, and we’ve isolated people.
Words are beautiful and painful … when we use them, and when we don’t. Words can cut deeply, silence deeper still. An inflection gone wrong. Phrases loosely knit. Colloquialisms misplaced.
The pen. The sword.
I have become overly sensitive, self-righteous and exceedingly protective of this unfortunate moniker. And I bristle at its flippant use, as I imagine others with a membership card perhaps do. I regret all of the times in the past that I threw it about so easily, before I understood the awkwardness that comes with actually being one. I never considered who might be listening. Who might be hurting.
Watching her carefully I can see that she knows a chord was struck, but she cannot decipher which one. The warm beat of the room has been disrupted and a pang of guilt twists inside me. As much as I want to punish her for unknowingly comparing her disrupted holiday schedule with my disrupted life, I want to save her from what she doesn’t know.
That widows are beautiful. Ordinary, Young. Old. Tired. Energetic. Successful. Struggling. Sad. Joyful. Angry. Content. Unsettled. Adventurous. Cautious. Exuberant. Fearful. Determined. Graceful. Clumsy. Rich. Poor. Professionals. Homemakers. Change agents. Mothers. Grandmothers. Sisters. Daughters.
I reach across the chasm her words created and gracefully untangle the fiery knots inside me.
And file the words away.