So many of the “Al chets” this High Holy Day season have to do with words. Words clearly matter. They certainly have an impact.
I’m a word person. I take words to heart. That may not always be wise because there are times when people fling words about thoughtlessly, and their intent may not jibe with what I take as their meaning. And vice versa.
I often sign letters to friends, “Fondly.” What I mean is, I think of you with fondness. We may not be bosom buddies, but I think of you with affection. Recently, I was told that a recipient found my closing to be on the cool side, as if I had written, “Sincerely yours.” Not at all my intention.
Two years ago, I met a woman in a bakery. We started chatting about the relative merits of raisin challah versus non-raisin. (Not quite as charged a subject as Trump versus Clinton, but not entirely devoid of passionate conviction, either.) In the course of minutes, we became fast friends. Over the next days, weeks and months we became besties. There was an instantaneous chemistry between us, as if we had known each other for decades.
At the end of our first phone conversation, she said, “’Bye. Love you.” Omigosh. I was so taken aback. I automatically answered, “’Bye. Love you, too,” but I was astonished. My old friends don’t do that. We know we love each other. We know our friendships are precious. We know we have long histories together – but who ever says the L word? Nobody! It’s too mushy. It’s too raw, too vulnerable.
After a few such sign-offs, I began to relax and get used to the idea of ending a conversation with, “Love you.” I have a cousin, more like a sister, to whom I speak every midnight for either a minute or a half hour, depending on what’s going on. One night without thinking, I closed our conversation with, “G’night. Love you.” I hadn’t intended to say it, but it just came out. She answered in kind. I don’t know if she paid attention to what she was saying at the time or not, but now that’s how we end every conversation.
I come from a very reticent family. My parents pretty much never told us they loved us in words, only in deeds. I’m trying to think back to how I spoke with my kids, but frankly I’m a bit afraid to go there. I know that nowadays I end my phone conversations with, “Love ya.” That is not the same as, “I love you.” It’s shorthand. It’s breezy, as if it’s a throwaway line that could be edited out without affecting the script. Again, there’s that fear of laying yourself out there to be accepted or rejected, that vulnerability. What if they don’t answer, “Yes, Mom, I love you, too?”
It’s easier with grandkids. No history except toys and ice cream cones. There again, I end my conversations with, “Love you, sweetie.” What I usually hear in response is, “Bye, Savti.” But the twelve-year-old, the most macho of the bunch, answered slowly and clearly and even deliberately: “I love you, too, Savti.” Not, “Love ya.” Not, “Bye.” Rather, “I love you, too.” Next time I saw him, I told him what a gift that was.
There are tales about how we are each given a finite allotment of words to use over our lifetime. I hope I can spend the rest of my days generously and honestly peppering my conversations with, “I love you.” It seems a good way to spend my cache.