One of our first developmental tasks after birth is to learn to speak. Barring some sort of developmental disorder, we all learn how to do it and spend the rest of our lives speaking. Some speak more than others, but for the most part, we like to communicate with others. Of course it gets complicated. Some speech is unkind, and then there are all sorts of rules we learn to keep things civil. We have varying abilities to manage it all.
But then there is the experience of being speechless. Sometimes it’s due to an opinion, delivered with some force and conviction, with which we disagree but we never saw it coming. Sometimes it’s a reaction to the unsaid, an action we would never take in a similar situation. It may be our reaction to seeing something very beautiful or tragic. Or it may be our surprised reaction when we meet someone who seems like a kindred spirit to us.
When I was a child, I was painfully shy, and mortified at the thought that the teacher might call on me and I might not know the right answer. Usually that wasn’t the case, but I always blushed at simply being the center of attention for the moment. Sometimes I still do that. I recall having a couple of buddies with whom I could converse nearly endlessly, when I was in high school or Junior college. But if I got a crush on someone, then I was completely tongue tied in their presence, even if I could previously have easily conversed with them. One time I recall meeting a young man who seemed quite interesting to me, though he was a complete stranger. I managed some conversation then seemed to hit a wall, and simply stood there, trying to find something to say. Of course, he took it the wrong way and disappeared! I met the same man later in life and he could still render me speechless on occasion, and he still usually somehow got the wrong message from that.
Sometimes though, it seems there are simply no words adequate to express what we would like to say. Nearly a week ago, my neighbor lost his wife of 29 years. They still have kids in high school and she was only 48. It was totally unexpected, probably one of those things where the heart stops due to some undetected anomaly, I suppose. One day she was fine, taking care of her family, working, planning vacations. The next she was gone. It leaves me speechless.
At the time, when the emergency vehicles were here and they were trying to revive her, I was trying to pray. But all I could pray was Lord, have mercy. Since then, I have been asking my many groups to pray for the family. Still, I keep wondering what on earth I should say when we finally talk to them. I’m still pretty much speechless. I wish of course, that I could ask whether she had some preexisting condition, or if this sort of thing ran in her family, but it seems kind of crass to do that. I’m sorry for your loss, is the pat answer, but it seems so little for such an enormous loss. So I’m left speechless, thinking that we are meant to weep with those who weep, yet not really sure how to do that. When it’s someone very close to you, it seems natural to sit with them and share memories and even weep sometimes. But that is a lot harder when it is only a casual connection. We’ve been neighbors a long time, but it is largely a matter of greetings in passing, as we don’t travel in the same social circles.
What situations leave you speechless?