One of my nieces got married a few weeks ago (hi, sweetie!) and during the speeches, her sister alluded to a drinking game they invented. Whenever one of them makes the other cry – from joy or love, not, like pinching or being mean – the other one has to take a drink. And as the speech went on, there came a moment when the whole room welled up and Heather said, “Take a drink!” So we did.
And as the night wore on, more speeches were made and more drinks were taken. And in private conversations, we made each other cry. And took a drink.
It was shorthand for “I feel so much love for you right now and big events like weddings make me realize that time is passing and we can’t hang on to these moments even though I really, really want to.”
By the end of the evening, shirtless men were dancing in the fountain. Breakfast the next morning was a hushed affair because there was so much love and joy in the room that night.
And as I sipped at my grapefruit juice and questioned my life choices, I also thought about some of the other shorthand my family has used through the years.
As the MS made it harder and harder for my mother to walk, she would, for seemingly no reason, stagger. And as she righted herself, she would look to the family member nearest to her and say, “Quit pushing!!”
It was shorthand for “I really hate this thing that’s happening to me and it’s completely humiliating to lose control like this but I can’t give in to the despair, so I’m gonna make a joke about it and I hope you’ll play along.”
And whoever had been accused of pushing her would offer an abject apology or tell her to get out of the way or say something like, “But you make it so easy!”
Which was shorthand for “It kills me to see you suffering like this. It’s so unfair, but I know you don’t want us to make a big deal out of it so out of love and respect for you, I’m gonna play along.”
Which was great until we were out in public and innocent bystanders would witness it and think we were horrible, horrible people for trying to trip our own mother. Seriously, a very nice woman nearly punched me one day.
Now that I have some mobility issues of my own, Alan will offer me his arm and say, “Come along, Skippy!” Which means “I really hate to see you in pain, but no matter how bad it gets and no matter how grumpy it makes you, I’m not giving up on you. I’m here for you and you can lean on me.”
And I say, “OK.” Which means, “OK.”
It’s good, sometimes, to have the long, deep talks, to tell the people we love that we love them and how and why.
But that’s not always possible. Some of the people we love just aren’t ready to have it spelled out. And trying to tell them would be awkward and not spread any of the good feelings that we so want to spread. And if we truly love them, we need to respect that and come up with a code word, with some kind of shorthand that conveys all those good feelings with no awkwardness or embarrassment to anyone.
And sometimes, even when we can have those conversations, it’s not reasonable to have them every single time we feel the love. If it’s Tuesday morning and you’re racing out the door to work, say, or in the middle of a large gathering, or you just really want to get to sleep, a bit of emotional shorthand is a kind of magic. As long as you both know and agree on what the shorthand is short for.
What do you think? Do you have shorthand that you use with your family and friends? Can you maybe think of something that someone always says to you and see it in a new light?