I firmly believe spoken language, speech, is over rated. I believe that we all speak much louder with our faces, gestures, tones and body language. It’s easy for me to say this, much of my life has been learning to communicate with John in code. Touch. Expression. That’s what happens when your voice is silent, but you still have volumes to say, questions to ask and you find a way to make that happen.
I don’t really think about it, until someone does not understand our language. This was the case a few weeks ago at a family gathering. I was catching up on lost years with a relative, sitting in a quite dining area talking when John came in and touched me on the arm.
“What’s up buddy?” I ask. John smiled and touched my hand.
“I am sorry, I’ll be right back.” I said to my company as I followed John toward the kitchen. John stood at the pantry, calm, relaxed, but grinning and twisting his hands, a sign for excitement. I knew he wanted me to get out a box of cookies, so I did and handed them to him and ask him to share. I went back to my guest.
A few minutes later a grinning John came into the room and handed me the empty cookie tin. I looked up at his bright smiling beaming face and said, “Yep, that’s what happens when you share, I hope you hid a few for later.”
John sat down by me and took the tin out of my hand. I minute later he took the tin and left the room. A few minutes after that he came back with the same empty tin, and sat down by me hard with much enthusiasm and shoved the tin into my hands. I laughed, “Still empty, either you did hid them or wish you had.” John pressed hard against me and smiled. We sat side by side as the relative talked. Suddenly laughter erupted in another area of the house and John touched my arm.
“You can go see what it is.” I told him, but he hesitated and pressed on my arm firmly.
“But what if I don’t want to know what’s going on, you go, you go see and enjoy it.” I said to John as I watched him turning his head toward the laughing sound.
John pressed my arm again and I laughed, “Okay, we will both go see, but I bet it’s nothing.”
I excused myself from the conversations and followed John who followed the sound of laughing. We discovered the source was a group of boys, now men, recounting childhood pranks. “Join us John and I’ll tell you a few things your Dad did when he was a kid!” One cousin called out to John as he held his hand out for John to take. John did and joined the circle of men. I went back to a circle of women, now gathering in the dining area catching up over coffee.
I sat down to resume conversation when I was confronted instead.
“Why do you let him do that to you? All day long he tugs and touches and takes you places, why don’t you just tell him no and make him understand you have things to do.” A person I didn’t know very well said to me.
For a second I was stunned. “How do you talk to someone?” I asked them back.
“When you have a question or want to share a story, or can’t find something, how to you convey that message?”
“I dunno, ask.”
“That is all John is doing. If he could speak, he would. If he could use sign language he would. What he can do is touch, smile, laugh, look confused, pout, it’s called communication, it’s his language. I know by his touch which means follow me I need to ask you something, or I need you to come help me do something or I am board, let’s go. John’s touch is as a rule, soft and like the flutter of butterfly wings on my skin. Only in deep need does he pull or tug and it’s always for a very real, necessary reason. If he could stand here and say to me come on, get up move it, in a loud voice he would, but he can’t, so he uses touch to speak.”
“But you always go, why don’t you just say no, I am talking, not now.”
“For John to say a complete sentence, I have to go where he needs to get the rest of the picture. When he wanted me to share cookies, more than likely he heard someone say something about cookies, or even ask him if his Mom had some hid somewhere. John couldn’t tell you where they are, but he could ask me to open the pantry so he could get them out and share and he did. Besides, I really enjoy talking with my son, you should try it sometimes, he has a lot to share.” I got up and walked off.
I stood in an entry way hall and listened to a jumble of sounds. Laughter, voices, noise. I thought about being blind and unable to see faces and bodies to read between the lines expressed in body language. I though about being deaf and not hearing, but using sight to hear and communicate with. I closed my eyes and leaned against the wall, John must have been watching me because he found me and put his arms around my neck.
“Hi sweet boy, I am so glad I understand the touch of your voice, never loose that will you. I need it, I need your touch.”
John smiled. Laughed and took me by the hand. He had something to share and I, ever so grateful he could, went.