There are those moments when words seem to have an almost magical power. When they take us to the places of our dreams and even beyond. Then there are those times when they seem to utterly lack any meaning at all. Come at us like distorted echoes that are far too much work to even begin to comprehend. Mostly, however, they tend to fall somewhere between those polar opposites.
One word can bring a smile to a face that was blank just the moment before, or sting for hours like an almost invisible paper cut. Some seem wet, like the sloppy kiss of an overexcited puppy, others are dry and can lull the reader to sleep trying to slog through them. Words can bring inspiration and joy to a life that was heading toward bland, or trip up that individual who was moving so smoothly (just a minute before) through his/her life experience.
Because words are so important to my person, I have had all of these experiences and thousands more. Does that mean I should be afraid of this thing that I love and chase after through most moments of my existence? Words have power even when they put us to sleep.
A few days ago, I ran into a word that both startled me and then made me run for cover. I didn’t literally do those things, I did them on an emotional and psychological level. The response was so immediate that I didn’t even know that I was thus engaged until after I had done so. It was just a word, random letters placed in an arbitrary order that sent messages throughout my nervous system. Those messages had me in flight like a small bird that suddenly becomes aware of the tangerine cat sneaking up on it as it hops over the ground seeking some form of sustenance.
When I realized that I had already taken to the air without thought of doing so, I went back and explored the word. It wasn’t a bad word. As a matter of fact it is a rather good and positive one. So what had sent me into unthinking motion? I settled all my ruffled feathers and decided to explore what had actually happened.
First of all, the word had been applied to my person as a definition. Someone else’s definition, and not one I would ever have considered to be attached to me, to the person I am and see myself being. It was just too big, large with meanings that I felt carried way too much responsibility for my shoulders to carry, let alone still allow me to fly in whatever direction I might choose. It, to my senses, felt like a trap. Steel bars suddenly springing up around me that would forever stop any forward movement, perhaps all movement of any kind.
When I realized that my flight had been initiated by my own senses, I perched for a while and decided to face off with this tangerine tabby. You must confront your fears or forever be limited by them. It’s a word. It’s in the dictionary. Look it up and see if it means what you think it means. I did that and found just a word.
But, that word held some very real consequences for my person. It meant a possibility of change in the very manner in which I viewed me. The dictionary definition didn’t do that, I did that. It was my definition of the word and what I thought it entailed that had sent me flying away, looking for a safe place in which to recover my equilibrium. I had attached meanings and consequences that were not in the word itself, but only occupied a space between my own ears and deep inside my own feelings. Which only means that my fear was only one of many possibilities.
Okay, I am getting somewhere with all of this. Next step: try to get another or, other perspectives. That meant discussing the word and my feelings with others. Oh boy. This could be embarrassing. So, I carefully chose two people with whom I am comfortable admitting my personal foibles with. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t somewhat embarrassed, it just means that I was disturbed enough by the whole thing to see that embarrassment was just another form of the original fear.
But, before discussing it with either of my friends, I wrote about it in my journal. Getting my thoughts and feelings sorted out before actually opening my mouth. Who would have thought that something definitely meant as a compliment could create this much trouble? But it did.
When I did finally discuss it with my friends, they helped me to see where I had made a left turn instead of a right one. I thank both of them profusely and am far more comfortable than I was when the word was originally aimed in my direction. That tangerine tabby turned out to be made of mist. Just a movement caught in a side glance that felt threatening. Would I now use that word to define my own person? No. But, at least I am far more comfortable with it and might even get to the point where I will accept it gracefully and just say, “Thank you,” should it ever happen to cross my path again.
Words do have power. They motivate and move us from one moment to the next. They can be weapons, but also priceless treasures. Without them there might be no movement at all. Only unceasing silence. Now that wouldn’t send me into unthinking flight. It would freeze me up completely, perhaps for all eternity.
How do you handle the words in your life? Do you greet them as friends or ward them off in panic? Are you careful with the words you choose, or do you think of them as only words?