As the holidays approach I've been thinking about communication. Working at CNN as a researcher, my communication is dominated by the written and spoken word for nine hours straight. On a slow day I will work on 10 scripts and go through 100 emails. When I’m not reading and writing, I’m speaking – to our reporters in every corner of the world. At the end of the day my voice is tired from talking and my fingers from typing. Only a tiny percentage of my communication at CNN is non-verbal.
During the holiday season I have to re-adjust my own thinking on communication because of the symbolic, tangible and non-verbal holiday communication. At my family's Thanksgiving for example we communicate affection, connection and community through carefully prepared food eaten together. For me the significance and power of this communication was heightened this year when, for the first time, my boyfriend's family and my family dined together. Stefan's aunt's sweet potatoes were joyfully scarfed down alongside my father's Turkish zucchini and my first-ever attempt at a turkey. That which divides us was left unspoken and our togetherness communicated by a bountiful table, full stomachs and smiling faces.
While still digesting Thanksgiving dinner I received emailed photos of an art installation created by a dear friend of mine, studying in Ireland. As usual I was blown away by the emotion contained in her work. Vanessa's work has long forced my brain to slow down. Through rich visual detail, great emotion is communicated. I understand more from spending a silent hour with her work than an hour conversing. Vanessa understands better than most that words don't often convey or communicate everything we have to say.
In a few days I will travel to visit my grandfather in an Alzheimer’s ward, where verbal communication will almost certainly fail. My grandfather, a retired professor of Mathematics, was once a master of verbal communication. A man who started his adult life selling bibles door to door, my grandfather could, and did, charm everyone he met. A routine 10-minute errand to the bank, would consume half an hour as the employees gathered around lavishing upon my grandfather rapt attention. He held court almost everywhere.
I am told my grandfather, like most Alzheimer's patients, can no longer recall names and only occasionally remembers relationships; I don't expect much of the old verbal magic that we once had. But by traveling to visit my grandfather I will communicate, in a way words never could, love and support to my family.
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