This story has stuck with me for some while, so I am finally sharing it here. Thank you Cynthia Gorney for your finely-honed sense of justice and your fine writing.
• ''I had a doorbell moment this week.'' Patricia said to Tracy. Both have sons serving in the same Marine unit in Iraq. She is describing the fear that grabs her the moment her doorbell rings unexpectedly, thinking that the officer on the other side has come to tell her that her son is dead. Tracy understands.
Hint One: Through shared experience, expressed aloud, we adopt “shorthand” expressions and feel understood, closer and often even comforted.
• When Tracy’s son, Derrick was deployed, she knew that those who would most understand her feelings were other mothers in the same situation so she started a support group and web site, Marine Parents.
Wrote Gorney, “Draped over a banister in Tracy's house was an unwashed T-shirt Derrick had dropped during his last visit home. I thought Tracy was apologizing for her housekeeping, which I had already seen was much better than mine, but she cleared her throat and said that what I needed to understand was that she hadn't washed the T-shirt because if the Marine Corps has to send you your deceased child's personal effects, it launders the clothing first. ‘That means there's no smell,’' Tracy said.”
Hint Two: Smell is the most directly emotional sense. Nothing else comes close. Use smell as memory anchors of your shared experience
• “Tracy's closest friends in the world right now are other parents whose sons and daughters have served in Iraq or are serving there now.
Hint Three: Your strongest emotions right now can lead to your closest sources of support.
• “Tracy knows that the grandfather clock in Patricia's house chimes nine times when the other clocks say it's noon because the grandfather clock is set to Baghdad time.
Tracy knows that Patricia has figured out how to tell if someone is in her driveway by squinting at the reflection off a certain glass-covered picture in the dining room, so that if it should ever be two men in uniform, Patricia will know they have arrived before they start ringing the bell and before she is obliged to look directly at them and hear what they have come to say.”
Hint Four: The specific detail paints the picture that people will see in their mind’s eye and shapes how they will feel and remember what you say.