What if… (response 5)

This piece is one in a series of responses to “What If…” that we are posting this week. You may find this one easier to digest by reading aloud.

Who can tell what kinds of thoughts swim beyond the eyes of four women conversing? Who can say where their minds travel in the brief moments that linger between spoken words? How can one ascertain the other’s secret musings, so secret that even they nearly forget what they’ve worked so tirelessly to keep hidden? Those hopes and aspirations, notions and impressions, doubts and anxieties, especially those of four women, are almost impossible to guess. Still, there is a shared, albeit silent, understanding between them. There is an unwritten treaty, signed and ratified by each, before entering into conversation. They sit, each with their own lives complete with joys and sufferings, and begin their visit.

One thinks of her illness and loneliness, between her “hello” and “how are you.” The other remembers the groceries she must pick up, and the money she’ll have to surrender to buy them, between an “I’m fine!” and “long time no see.” The third wonders how long she’ll have to stay, and the work she hasn’t finished between receiving two kisses on the cheek from her great-grandmother, who absorbing the image before her, smiles, not thinking of anything but the emotion filling her heart, pouring into her lips, that stretch into a smile, and into her eyes, that begin to water.

They women sit in a small square room, and they laugh while sharing some stirring stories of the past, and others that are nonsensical but that make them remember all that they share in common and love about each other. They laugh, but each also understands the undertones of the words spoken. Between four generations of women who have each lived in different fragments of the same family, there is much that is silently understood in deceptively trivial laughter. This is what conversation has become, words that only they can comprehend but that would sound perplexing to any outsider. Their joys and pain have brought them together, but their existing worries and struggles make them forget this bond.

The laughter persists, and each of them both loves and despises it. Wit allows them to endure and bear their common difficulties, but also functions as an endless weight over their shoulders. Speaking in words coded and disguised has become routine, but this they add on to the list of conventions they unconsciously submit to. These customs practiced by all members of the family were created as a way to be honest without giving direct offense; and to express one’s self in euphemisms.

This is somewhat grasped by the youngest, who wonders how to overcome the binding chains of tradition. The mother, who struggles against it, but feels locked from years of submission, understands it completely. The grandmother comprehends it too, not only from having experienced it, but also from having shaped it too. And there again sits the eldest of the women, who knows it best of all, who knows it as well as she knows her own two hands, but who decides rather to smile and appreciate the life she was given and those whom she loves, than be bound by it any longer.

She disregards the conventions, trying to overcome them through her love and value of something greater. She sees what time has allowed her to see, and that is the reality of what matters and is significant to one’s life. Her eyes are dry from being kept open as she tries not to blink anymore, clinging hard to the precious moments she has left. Surrendering, her eyelids meet, and colorful images appear before her. She sees her marriage, the birth of her daughter, and then the birth of her grandson. She then sees his marriage, and the birth of his child, her great-granddaughter. She laughs to herself, at those forgotten moments that passed between the brilliant points of her life. She laughs at the worries that made up great portions of her lifespan, worries that came and went, and were now forgotten. She laughs at the idea of time, at the idea of a hundred years that were swept away in the one second it took to blink her eyes. Before opening them she says a prayer in her heart, a prayer for the women in her room. She prays that they’ll look away from their present conditions and circumstances, and instead look at their collective potential, not yet realized. She prays that they will acquire this wisdom that took her a hundred years to obtain, wisdom that would have been gained in a moment if her mind hadn’t been clouded by those numberless uncertainties and anxieties that chase all who run instead of see.

The youngest begins caressing her stomach and with uncontained joy announces a pregnancy. Her great-grandmother laughs again, as the rest of the women weep in joy, as she considers: that in the time it took for her to blink once more, a fifth soul entered the room, and joined the circle of conversing women.