This tiny extract from Marina Abramovic's piece An Artist is Present - in which she sits in silence with a stranger for just one minute - captivated me when I first came across it. I still find myself thinking of it. A procession of strangers comes and goes. And then she opens her eyes to see a former love sitting across the table from her. The moment is staged and the crass public intrusion upon the silence grates. But those silent seconds of clasped eyes and hands have a poignancy that feels truthful. Their meeting of eyes suggests years of knowing and an intimation of those hurts and misunderstandings that exist as a relationship ends. As she leans back again, readying herself to meet the next stranger, his hands are momentarily left on the table, stretched still towards her. In her work to compose herself for her next encounter, she too seems to be outstretched towards him. It feels like there has been something of importance said: largely in silence.
Why it moves me so strongly I can't entirely say. Partly because it is an act that explores our culture's strong discomfort with silence. That so few seconds can carry a disproportionate weight of meaning. I suspect, however, that it's mostly because I have a few people I would like to sit in eloquent silence with: wounds I would like to heal. And when deep emotion is involved, words often fail me or become my enemy and, as in Prufrock, I hear myself repeating:
'That is not it at all,
That is not what I mean, at all'
I am thinking there is something I can learn from this. Something about saying less but meaning more. Valuing the small moments. That reaching out can be enough.