I was standing in the grocery store today, waiting for a ridiculously large lunch order at the deli counter. My personal email had stopped syncing to my phone and I only realized it was a problem at that time because I was looking for the order confirmation to get everyone’s chips and drinks. When I got the problem corrected, my phone locked up because, of course it did…why wouldn’t it? That’s just the sort of luck I have. When the phone unlocked and a flood of emails began populating my screen, I understood why. It wasn’t just that my phone stopped syncing a day ago; my phone had not synced my personal email account in more than two weeks—I thought my email had been a little quiet, but I had been enjoying it so I didn’t think much of it.
I scrolled through the mass trying to get back to the top when a name popped up. It was the name of a bridge I burned quite some time ago and was surprised to see it on the list, so much so that my breath caught in my lungs for longer than it should have. I convinced myself it was one of those spam viruses that sends out infected links to everyone who has ever been on your email list, and I skipped it to find that deli order. But curiosity was screaming in my head so I scrolled back down and clicked on the email. It was already fifteen days old and was a simple note to, “Stay safe in the storm.” Five words flattened me, the breath stuck in my chest again, and emotions surged through my being. The last fifteen days since that email was sent had been quite complicated for me. The end of that friendship was even more complicated. Five words made me want to cry, to run, to laugh, to smile, to call out, to sink to my knees, to write back…
As beautiful as those words were, I had none to match them. So instead of replying, I let the world swirl around me. I was stuck in time, a thing that does not happen to me often. I always have some place to go, some thing to do, or some conversations to have; but, at that moment, I was confined to the deli counter. For the duration of my wait, I simply enjoyed thinking about the beauty of the written word. I was enthralled at how those particular words brought value back into my existence at a moment when I had been feeling unnecessary in the world. I was amazed at all the memories and feelings they called back to me—feelings about the friendship specifically, the end of friendships in general, the helplessness of listening to a terrific and terrifying storm tear over my house in the dark of night, the burden of worrying for others whom I was powerless to help, the stress of clean up and the uncertainty for when life would return to normal. It was a beautiful, awful ten minutes of waiting at the deli counter.
I reveled in the power of words to leave me without words. I thought of other words which had done the same: poems, stories, text messages, Facebook posts. Words which had forever changed my life, words which I wish I could share, but would be meaningless and empty to anyone other than myself. I am an English major who all too often finds herself in this situation. My grandfather taught me that when I don't know what to say, I should say nothing at all—better to keep quiet and listen, than to speak and offend. I am not sure it is always the best advice, but it is what I turn to in moments of clouded judgement.
The truth is, I wish I could paint with the same power words have. But there is too much left to interpret on a canvas. The most beautiful words have very clear meaning. Albeit that is a bit of an excuse for poor painting; great artwork is beautiful because it is powerful.