Without the benefit of words

(This post was originally published August 2013 on a page I was contributing to that has since been discontinued. I am slowly reposting/rescuing some of my favorite ones. The ones from my trips to Poland are among them. <3)

My regular readers know my husband and I recently went to Poland to stay with relatives living on the farm my Dad was born on. My cousin, Henryka and her husband, Christopher, live on the farm with their two precious daughters, Anita and Ola. Living a few houses down is my other cousin, Henryka’s older sister, Krysia and her husband Chesik. Still further down the same road are Christopher’s parents, Adam and Joanna.

While Anita and Ola are fluent in English, and we’ve been in touch with them since they found us on Facebook in 2009, the rest on the list do not speak English—just beautiful, rich, precious Polish. I only know enough Polish to be dangerous. (I was going to say “polite” but let’s just say I knew when I was in trouble growing up with Polish-speaking parents.)

The short ten days we stayed in Poland, my husband and I learned to wish our relatives a good morning, and a peaceful night. We knew how to express our overwhelming gratitude for countless kindnesses: authentic Polish, gluten-free meals, home-grown wine, a beautiful room to stay in, trips to local “must see” sites filled with beautiful scenery and meaningful history, introductions to cousins and distant cousins filled with hugs and kisses and more kindnesses. It’s easy to show gratitude without knowing the language fluently—smiles, hugs, a rub of the belly as you take a second helping.

We did not need words to understand. The looks in their eyes spoke volumes. We saw their pride when they played a recording of their youngest singing a lovely song about why Poland means so much to the people. (Too large to copy, but here’s a link to the original singer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcAVzLoTw1U. Yes it’s in Polish, but you WILL get the feeling from it. I promise.)

Their undying love for Adam and Joanna was readily apparent without spoken word, shining brilliantly through their eyes and hearts. It was palpable. When we would cry, they would cry. No words, only feelings expressed in a “universal” language.

I’ve read that 55% of communication is visual and 38% is vocal. A mere 7% involves actual words. Even when our Polish family was speaking Polish you could see the depth of feeling in their eyes and the love in their voices willing us to understand their heartfelt messages. Sometimes we didn’t know exactly what they were saying, but we knew what they meant.

When sharing a video of my dad playing his harmonica—his only real form of communication once Alzheimer’s took his speech away—they all listened intently to make out the songs he played. Krysia broke into tears the instant she heard the first tune. Her son, Slawek, unable to hear at one point, “sh-sh’d” those speaking so he could get a better listen. The respect and intent with which they all listened took my breath away. I didn’t expect their overwhelming emotion. To me this was a video I’d listened to a million times; and of course, I cherished the memory. To them it was a piece of history they desperately wanted to share. The tears flowed.

I always suspected the songs that soothed my dad were old Polish tunes. Now it’s confirmed. They were Polish love songs, church songs; and, of course, the Polish anthem. It meant something to each of them to know that while there had been a falling out between my parents and their family some 40+ years ago, my dad continued to hold Poland in his heart. In turn, their caring meant something deeply to my husband and I. We will never forget.

On the last day of our visit, Henryka asked for Anita’s help to search the house frantically for something. Then they found it. It was a magnet Henryka had that said: “Nie ma lepszej przyjaciółki od siostry ani lepszej siostry od ciebie.” which interprets to say: “There is no better friend than her sister or sister better than you.” My cousin feels like my sister and my heart is full.

There will forever be this heart connection between us and our Polish family and just as we didn’t need spoken words to know the contents of their hearts, our connection will continue to grow without the benefit of words—for now.

How about you? What are you communicating without the benefit of words? Fifty-five percent of communication is visual. The depth of feeling experienced without the benefit of words with our family in Poland stays with me.

Relationships are precious energy, alive and vital. Your family knows your heart. Believe it. You never know the depth of what’s there without the benefit of words.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

“Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing….
You say it best when you say nothing at all.” ~ country song written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SCOimBo5tg

This is a great book if you’re interested in Poland’s “Spirit of Place”. There was a shrine down the street from my family’s farm in Poland.