The man with a Greek name
"Watching you feed the pigeons is the most beautiful thing I have seen all day."
How did he react?
He nodded and said something I could not understand. He gave me a warm look.
How did I feel?
I love words. They are my favorite toys and my number one tool for expression, my hide away when I feel lonely. Mediators use words to resolve conflicts. Poets plant the beauty of the world into combinations of letters. Did you know philosophers say we cannot even think without them? No doubt: Words rock. However occasionally they are superfluous. Think about that moment right before you kiss someone for the first time. Or the silence you share with your best friend. Or meditation. Words? Needless there.
That same feeling, the "Don't speak now or you might ruin the moment." grabbed hold of me today when I saw an old man, standing in an open space in Hanover, feeding the pigeons.
It is that feeling which fills me now as I am looking for phrases to describe the moment. Everything that comes to mind feels insufficient. I wish I could just take you there and make you see his long, white beard, and his hands, their rhythmic plucking of breadcrumbs. How he would throw them away, his arm spreading wide. To his feet the pigeons' movement, like a choreography danced by toddlers who kept falling out of their routine and somehow still managed to find their way back on stage. All over the place and at the same time unspeakably aesthetic.
It was in the way the man continued moving in the same fashion for minutes. Crumb after crumb after crumb. Or was it in his expression? That peaceful, quiet, introverted look? Was it the soft wind maybe? Or the clicking of the pigeons' beaks? I can't say. There is no phrase I can pin it to. However I do know it was there: The magic that unfolds away from words. Stillness.
Eventually I decided to talk to him, why, I don't know. Maybe so I could feel into the difference: Giving in to the "be still"-impulse versus approaching and complimenting him. Maybe because I was with a camera team and they were expecting me to. Or maybe because I was so fascinated by the beauty this person radiated with, I was too curious not to make contact. Either way I ended up walking up to him. Turned out he was sick, to me it seemed like dementia: I repeated most questions several times, in some cases he would react, in others he would not. Once he pointed at his head, then shook it and said, "Sickness." But he smiled and seemed fine with me speaking with him. He even told me his name, but it was hard to understand him. However I got that it was Greek. So even while chatting with him this experience was not about the words at all, for a different reason than before--now it was his sickness-- but still, or again, I just enjoyed his company. After we said goodbye he walked to the bus station. And suddenly, watching him, one word came to mind after all: Besonnenheit. It is a German expression I can't seem to find a proper translation for. But if you speak German you know what he was like. Completely besonnen.
My lesson of the day: If I am too insecure to approach someone and compliment them but would secretly love to I am all for the words. They are this project's purpose- go compliments! However there are moments, like the one today, in which rather than complimenting a person in words I want to compliment them in silence. If the person and I feel the depth of what is going on and enjoy it the moment might be stronger when words are not made. I realized I can have the first-kiss-moment with a stranger, whatever that looks like in particular: an old man feeding pigeons, a lady smiling at me on the train with softness in her eyes, a musician pouring their heart out busking while I sit down to immerse in it for minutes. In those cases remaining silent can be the bigger compliment, sometimes even once the moment has passed. Everyone involved already knows. They feel.