What I meant to say | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | May 25, 2018

Communication is difficult. Talking, shouting, sharing, declaring, writing, and even listening, regarding, considering are all practices we engage in constantly every day, but actually saying what you want in a way that another person understands what you intend is extremely rare.

Current research in human psychology has named this challenge with our ability to simply tell each other what we are thinking. They say most of us suffer from something called “the transparency illusion.”

We believe that what we are crystal clear in how we communicate, so we do little to communicate well. We assume we are well-versed and transparent, so we give insufficient information for someone else to accurately judge our words or intent.

The majority of our communication is also hampered by distractions, time constraints, emotions, differing vocabularies and cadences, and the way humans inherently process language differently.

Linguists and philosophers have long recognized that language is inherently vague, and it rarely accurately represents our thoughts and ideas.

As we string words together, they have different meanings to different people and our unique personal experiences associated with context and word usage add more layers of confusion.

My verbal skills failed me recently when trying to share a story, and the strong feelings that went along with it, to someone I did not know – a performer whose song had impacted me.

Last week, Rufus Wainwright returned to the Edmonds Center for the Arts, and as with his earlier visit here, his sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche, opened for him.

(Rufus is awe-inspiring and gave another stunning performance, as did Lucy, who always seems to be a surprising delight to those who do not know her music. Like her brother, her voice is one that defies easy description – high and lonesome, angelic, folksy, resonant, country – and her lyrics are soulful, thoughtful, sometimes dark, and often bittersweet.)

When the show started, I was reminded of the first time we saw her and how certain lyrics resonated with me because it was during the time when my father was dying:

Everyone will always know you are a heart of mine.

Between forever and one day there is the finest line…

So now we're ancient, near our ends

while few moments left for us to spend.

There’s a last time

There's a last time for everything.

Although I think of the song often, I did not expect to be overcome with memories when she sang it again, but music always brings my feelings to the surface. During the intermission, I walked over to Wainwright-Roche, where she was signing CDs and engaging with fans, and tried to tell her what I had been thinking about while she sang those words.

I said that it might sound kind of strange, but I told her I heard that song for the first time just days before my father died and it was always inextricably linked to my memories of that time.

“There’s a last time for everything” were the lyrics on the concert T-shirt that my mom and I both regarded as a phrase so obviously true back then. Lucy was very gracious and thanked me, but I am relatively certain that I did not get across what I wanted to.

It seems that to overcome the conditions that complicate our interactions, all we can do is continue to try to understand each other and try to communicate better.

So what I meant to say, Ms. Wainwright Roche, was “thank you.” Thank you for creating a song that expresses the sadness of losing someone but simultaneously captures the gratitude for recognition that each moment with certain people is a gift.

I wish I would have told you that hearing your words many years ago helped me to be more aware of how I could treasure every memory with my father. Even though I did not know how to give voice to that sentiment, your song had helped me see the conflict in my heart that love and loss bring.


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