I dwell among words, talking fast (it’s the northeastern, Jewish heritage) and trying to listen well. I forget to make time for silence, especially when in the company of others; the rush of words flows by so fast. This afternoon I had a visitor to my office with whom I had more time for silence.

She is Deaf, and since I only know half a dozen signs in ASL and she neither speaks nor reads lips, we conversed by writing. This meant that for long stretches, as she wrote on a notepad, I set aside language and received the things that usually recede to the background. One hand rested on the page, the other wrote, and I imagined drawing them and trying to convey all that they had done and written over the decades. Her hands looked browned by sunlight, like her face, suggesting days outdoors and places traveled. Her jeans were worn to softness and I wondered if they were as comfortable as they looked. Her hair was gray–what color had it been before? And where was that girlhood spent–what memories did she carry? What did it feel like to brush that straight, smooth hair each morning, to look out from those eyes?

She wrote several sentences, pausing to consider and even erase. I had time to consider all of this before she finished and handed me the pad to read and respond. It felt like a gift: to be dipped into a quiet pool and permitted to float there for a while before the flow of words resumed.