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Perhaps the very essence of human nature calls for naming things to make sense of the world.

I imagine the first humans touching rocks, blades of grass, newborn babies, and the fur of animals they killed. And making sounds — the first sounds that named the things they were touching.  In my mind the sounds don’t form words.  They resemble howls, wails, cries, high pitched screams, laughs, wheezes; they are the immediate manifestation of the physical, the plane of existence that is the most basic.

I have recently discovered that not everything that I know and experience can be named.  I have discovered that some of my experiences exist beyond words or apart from them in a place that is known only to me.  I suspect that we all have those our “own places” and we can not make them accessible to others by words.

My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in December, three months ago, and this is how I have learned that I have no words to talk about some things.  The feelings associated with my dad’s diagnosis cannot be described by the words that I know.  I am unable to name my experience but I know that it reaches to the essential, intrinsic, buried deep inside me place that seem to belong to those primordial howls, cries, and ails.  The feeling rattles beneath my skin, in the dark cave of my chest, and in the heaviness of my lower abdomen.  I have no words, just the physical sensation.

I name things to make sense of the world I live in.  I name to make things and experiences tangible and therefore accessible to others.  If I can’t capture things and experiences in words, I can’t communicate. I can’t share them with others and this means being alone with those things and experiences.

Perhaps this was the first reason for the first word: to share and not to be alone.

12 Responses to “Life beyond words (1)”

  1. Danuta, my heart goes out to you. Is there anything concerned readers can offer you at this time … a listening ear … a poem?

    Yes, naming is essential to humans. God named the world, each creation. Understanding, even just acknowledging, comes from naming.

    I am a writer and a compulsive user of words. I’ve never been able to write much of anything about a beloved brother who was killed on my birthday.

    You are feeling many feelings now about your dad’s diagnosis.

    You can’t name them … but if they were to go away, if, years from now, something similar brought back those feelings, you’d recognize them instantly, even in the new setting.

    • Danuta Hinc says:

      You made me realize that even when I can’t express something in words, I still can count on someone understanding. That’s another mystery of our human existence to me. A beautiful one.

  2. John says:

    Thank you for trying to articulate the experience of intense suffering that is nameless. Your words are a gift to me.

    Thank you for using your experience of suffering about your father’s illness to give me this gift.

  3. Dacia says:

    Prof Hinc,
    My heart goes out to you and your father.I’ll keep him in my paryers.I hope he beats it and thanks for sharing you are already an inspiration.

  4. mjcoene says:

    My step-father died from lung cancer when I was sixteen. Though I still feel longing toward his absence to this very day, his death was not nearly as painful as the effect the treatment had on his body. He was so sturdy–a man I have since come to see as an iconic representative of masculinity–yet he became frail and thin-voiced during the chemotherapy.

    The agony which I felt then, and sometimes still feel now, ten years later, is truly indescribable as you say. I sympathize with you, Danuta, and I hope you realize this feeling we as writers struggle to wrap words around and compartmentalize is one shared by many, many souls.

    Though stress accompanies lack of concrete definition, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. We are all here for you, and know exactly what you go through, even if we cannot say it.

    Also, I am now glad I decided not to pester you for that cup of coffee, now that I know what has been on your mind. Often solitude is the best treatment for these things.

    • Danuta Hinc says:

      Michael, thank you for sharing.
      An interesting thought came to my mind:
      How can we not be conflicted about our own suffering knowing the suffering of others? I can’t decide if this is compassion/empathy or embarrassment.

      • As often is the case, a bit of a paradox arises. If I take your meaning correctly, you imply that the knowledge of how deeply, perhaps how much MORE deeply, other people in the world are suffering should cause us to want to cast aside our own.

        Are you asking if it is selfish to indulge in self-pity, when the pain is great enough that you feel it justified? I would venture the answer is relative to the individual. A good person–and let us not get into the meaning of ‘good’–has earned the right to a bit of solitary pampering. However, one who engages in the activity on the regular, has not.

        I’m not sure if I went down the path you were heading with my response. I think I was–but I am not sure.

        • danutahinc says:

          I don’t think we can measure someone’s pain against someone else’s pain; too many different dimensions come into place to make it possible.
          I think that the question I wanted to ask is: In the face of someone else’s pain, while suffering myself, do I feel compassion/empathy, understanding their situation on the basis of my own experience, or embarrassment that comes from not remembering about others, from allowing myself to disconnect from others because of my own pain?

  5. I’ve been thinking about this post. I just posted about an important friend of mine. He passed away a few years back. Danuta, you may not want to read this now. Or if, you do, I’ll include the link. It’s about a loving person, and a friendship, and that friendship changing when the other left this realm.

  6. Marlee Lindon says:

    My heart goes out to you, and to your father and all who share this journey.
    Thinking of life beyond words brings me to several places. The first is that I would validate that your writing does that. The words lead us to a spirit place that is beyond the words. Good writing does that. It can be prose or poetry or more.
    And then, since I am a musician, I think about how music can do that. That is my goal, whenever I play: to bring the listener into direct communication with the music and wherever that leads them. It too is a spirit place. It can be many kinds of music. It has to be understood by the performer and come from the heart, and then it is not about the performer at all: it is about the music. And it needs to be received by the listener for that circle of communication to be complete. When it is working, it speaks directly to the heart. Music can express that which is beyond words to express.
    And one more musing… there are many cultures, even today, which have no written language. It is spoken, a totally aural tradition. And the people in those cultures have developed tremendous memory for the spoken word, and for the storytelling that passes on their heritage. That was true, even more, throughout history. Those cultures are very different from ours, and – who knows? – maybe richer in many ways.
    Who was it who said, “Life must be lived forward, but understood backward.” Here we are, right back to Yoga 101: be in the moment. And breathe. And today you have the group energy right there with you.

    • Danuta Hinc says:

      Thank you for you wise words. When I think of music, I think of the ultimate way of reaching to that deep place that exists beyond words … Bach comes to my mind first, always.