Do you know the sensation of being rubbed raw, like knees over gravel after being thrown from your bike? All concussion-y and scraped and grit mixed with blood under the skin. That’s how I felt when my boyfriend of 3 ½ years was moving out of our house of two years and two cats, taking with him what had made it our home. That’s how I felt walking through a grocery store to get something to eat after days of feeling empty.
Maybe that’s why nuts sounded like a good thing to purchase. That’s all my mind could cognate. Go Buy Nuts. Eat something that has the texture of how you feel. I oddly remember getting nuts that were already in pieces-crumbled, smashed, broken. The brain is a funny and mysterious place.
I must have stood in the nut section for a long time, long enough to get a strange and uncomfortable look from the lady nearby. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. I totally get what being dazed and confused in real time is all about. So when the checkout clerk asked me what I was going to do with my sunny afternoon, I didn’t pause. I didn’t blink. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t skip a beat before a monotone utterance of, “I’m going to pack up the boxes of my partner of 3 ½ years because he’s leaving.”
She just looked at me, eyes steady, and like we were an hour into a three hour conversation, she launched into her own story. From what I remember, it went something like this: her man of five years wouldn’t propose, and she was too old for that, and as she was starting to pack when he realized what an idiot he had been and popped the question. They were now engaged.
I stared at the assorted things I had just bought. Nuts and coffee and salsa. What was I going to do with this? It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
After packing my choice items, she said, “Wait just a moment. I’ll be right back.” Then she jumped from behind the counter and ran off. When she returned, she was holding a bouquet of flowers.
“I know, but it’ll get easier,” she said.
I put those flowers on my table newly-designed for one. In the midst of what felt like once-promised love masticating me into paste, I somehow managed to see the flowers. A stranger who knew how it felt when my world was slipping out from under me, who wanted to let me know, I get it, and you are not the only person who has transformed into pieces of chewed nuts. After a fit of tears and snot, lying on the floor, I could still see the flowers. I was not alone.
A few weeks later, I was pulling out of the parking lot of the same grocery store and saw a woman with a sign scrawled in pen reading Anything Helps. She looked rubbed raw, from too much sun and too many nights of who-knows-what and too many people not making eye contact while zooming past her to the stop sign.
I looked in by bags and pulled out a sunflower from the bunch I had just purchased and stuck it out through my car window. She slowly walked to the car, looked at it, took it, and started crying.
“Sweetheart, you made my day,” she told me with her eyes brimming.
I believed her.
Flowers from strangers-a secret language to say, I don’t know you, but I see you, and I am sorry you are suffering. You are crumbly and grungy and dazed and beautiful and human and you will be ok. I know. I get it.
We’ve all been rubbed to smithereens, dazedly walking through our own liminal places where time and space and food objects all pulverize together. We all share this language of break-down, albeit told through the different accents of sob storms, self-help books, whiskey, driving cars too fast, having something to prove, having someone to catch your full body weight when you slump, walking dazedly through grocery stores, and waiting by stop signs for help. Still, often, when we see it in others, we want to move along as quickly as possible. Nope, don’t stop, don’t look them in the eyes lest they make you feel it too, lest they make you remember.
But we all share another secret language. The language of kindness. It’s told in whispers of smiles and holding doors open and buying the guy behind you his coffee and listening to your friend cry for hours and giving strangers flowers. If you listen, you can hear its sister language of empathy sing you a lullaby when you need it most.
When the space-time continuum shifts ever so slightly so that there is translation between these three languages, we can get down to the same universal message: We are all human, and we all get it-the fiery grind of destruction and the aloe-on-burn calmness of compassion.
Sometimes inside that snotty, body-jumbled-on-the-floor, can’t-breathe-through-the-tears part of transformation that we all go through at some point in our own way, sometimes all we can hear is the secret language of flowers from strangers whispering, I know. I get it. You got this too.
Do you remember the last time you heard these languages? Do you remember the last time you spoke them?