This week I’ve been thinking about gestures, the tiny little “tells” that say so much without uttering a word. When I wrote about visiting my family’s longtime home, I suddenly remembered how my father tended my mother’s beloved rose garden after emphysema and dementia made it impossible for her to do so. My father began to clip perfect red buds that he presented to my mother and then placed in a small crystal vase at her place.
Writers often look for small physical actions to define a character. In her chapter on gestures in “Reading Like a Writer,” Francine Prose writes that properly used gestures “are like windows opening to let us see a person’s soul, his or her secret desires, fears or obsessions, the precise relations between that person and the self, between the self and the world, as well as… the complicated emotional, social and historical male-female choreography that is instantly comprehensible…” (213)
I thought about how a husband reaches across the bed for a kiss before going to sleep — such a small thing, so unimportant. The husband and wife go on like this for years, always the kiss before sleep, until one day the kiss is forgotten. And then another day and another day. Perhaps the missing gesture isn’t even noticed, not at first, and later didn’t seem worth complaining about.
When people grieve the death of a person or the demise of a relationship, it’s not just the what-once-was that is mourned. It’s all the gestures that were barely noticed, hardly appreciated… until they were gone.