Several months after my husband died, a man asked me out on a date. He tried 3 times before I realized that was what was happening. Even then, I might never have realized it if he hadn’t finally used the word “date.” I said no, but for months later I’d replay the event in my head, wondering why I had missed the signs. It is true that I can be quite literal sometimes. When someone invites me to coffee, even dinner, I generally see it just as a friendly invitation, suspecting no ulterior motive. It is true too that I had been part of a unit, an “us,” for so long that I hadn’t imagined anyone simply seeing me as an “I,” a singular being.
But while these may have been partly to blame for my lack of understanding, perhaps the real culprit was the medium. The man had asked me out via text, a medium devoid of the one form of communication I seem to be most skilled at, if I can be said to be skilled at any form of interpersonal communication at all—that of body language. Without this, I was forced to take him at his word, and left feeling slightly in the dark.
An article I recently read from Entrepreneur.com reports on the findings of a UCLA study, which stated that only 7% of communication was based on the actual words we say. Of the rest, it argued that a full 55% came from body language. We lean in, tilt our heads to show interest in another person. We cross our arms to express resistance, or disagreement. We use micro expressions, small shifts in our facial muscles to reveal what we unconsciously think/feel/believe. The most skilled among us can lie with our bodies, but it is harder to lie with our faces; real smiles crinkle skin in a way fake ones do not.
I want to surround myself with people who speak their minds, though I’m forced to acknowledge that many, and sometimes even I, don’t. And so I find myself studying people as they move through the world, how their bodies tell me what their words alone will not. The space they take up. The space they take with them when they leave.
Many animals also have forms of auditory communication like humans do, many species a mating call and other types of song—birds, a series of chirping arpeggios; whales, a slow sonorous slide across ocean floors; some mammals, a frantic chittering over food and territorial spaces, cats a meow to express displeasure, dogs a bark to indicate alarm. Yet many more rely on a kind of body language comprised of postures, differing gazes, and gestures. Some even change color to communicate, like the blush of a human cheek, though more thorough.
One of the most fascinating forms of communication in both the vertebrate and invertebrate world is that of bioluminescence, a chemical reaction in the body whereby the creature is left glowing. Some species of gnat, worms, and cephalopods, among others, display bioluminescence. Similarly to a human’s crossed arms, the light can be used to warn away predators; like a human slouching to appear less powerful and to appear non-threatening, the light can be used to cause an organism to disappear into its surroundings. Like the song too, of those birds perched on my rooftop, the light of a click beetle or firefly can call to a mate. Light, in this instance, attracts like.
How much easier I think this would be than to use words. If we could be instead like boxes of stars, all the bright spaces inside us opening up. If I no longer had to tell anyone that I could live without them, or to tell still others that I couldn’t. If I could mean everything, even the things I couldn’t bring myself to say. If it could just be written all over my face.