The Power of Words

I went to a booksigning today, with bitterly protesting son in tow, specifically so that I could meet the author and have a chance to speak to her. She’d written a poem that had been read at my cousin’s funeral a couple of months ago. The poem broke a dam of tears for me that dark day – capturing so perfectly my cousin’s spirit, and finding the words that until that moment I’d lost. I’d been so torn about my inability to write – I’d wanted to offer my family something for the funeral service, a token, some words to show in my own small way just how large my cousin’s presence had been. But I had no words, none. I was bereft.
That day, sitting so lonely amidst so many other sad, solitary people, all of us sharing the same hard benches, the same hard truth that my cousin was really gone – this poem was a gift, a garden, a balm of words.
This was one woman, writer, soul, that I just had to meet. And thank.
Today, she, in turn, thanked me.
My cousin had touched her too, of course, being the remarkable person that she’d been. But the author, JC Sulzenko, hadn’t known how my cousin, so many years ago, had inspired her to poetry that would eventually spear into me so deeply.

This is what words do.

My Dad scattered my Grandpapa’s ashes this week. He’d asked me, before leaving, if he could read the piece I’d written for Grandpapa’s funeral when it came time to open the urn. He thought it’d be fitting.
My Dad and I have been bridging, for years, a chasm between us. The fact that he asked, that he cared enough not just to read my words, but to ask me if it was alright with me – it didn’t just buttress that bridge; it shifted the ground.

This is what words do.

“What story is this song telling us, Mommy?” Bonhomme asked on the drive home tonight.
It was a beautiful opera piece in Latin, the voice piercing and true.
“I’m not sure, Love, but I think it might be a prayer.”
“A prayer? What’s a prayer?”
“It’s when somebody prays, Hon, I think she’s sad and she’s talking to God.”
“But what is praying, Mom?”
“It’s, well, it’s… it’s like your heart having a conversation with the universe.”
“But, how do you pray? How do you do that talking?”
“Well, some people get down on their knees beside their bed and do it, some people every day. Some people kneel on a special rug and do it several times a day, they even carry their special rug with them so that they can do it anywhere, since it’s so important to them. Some people put their hands together in front of their heart, some people do it at a church, some people go for walks, sometimes I feel like I’m praying when I do yoga.”
“You do? You can do praying, Mom?”
“Yup, anyone can do it.”
“But, why? When? How do you know you need to?”
“Well, um, some people pray when they’re sad, or lonely. Some people pray when they’re angry, and they don’t know what to do with their anger. Some people pray when they’re confused, or worried, or scared. Some people pray when they’re happy too, when they feel so much happiness at once that they feel they have to just share it with the whole world!”
“So praying is sharing?”
“Some people think so. I think so – I think that’s a really neat way to think about it.”
More silence. I’m congratulating myself on a successful navigation of the topic when –
“Momma, I think praying is like aiming.”
“Yah, like when you’re aiming a gun.”
My turn to be silent.
“Like when you’re aiming to shoot, say at a fox, or a balloon, or like in a videogame, or with my Lego! That’s like praying.”
“That’s not what I think praying’s like at all. Shooting a gun’s not at all like praying.”
“I think that’s what it is for me.” Bonhome says in a small, hurt voice.
Who am I to know?
“Well, Love, I have a hard time with that idea, because I don’t like shooting, and praying is something very special to me, special to lots of people, so it’s hard for me to think about praying being like shooting. But, everyone does it differently, and has to find their own way. I’m still finding my way.”
“I’m not – I know it already! And it’s not shooting, it’s aiming.” He’s proud, and definite.
I bite my tongue. It might not be my definition – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, it matters very much that it not be my definition – it’s his.

This is what words do.

“You know, Grace, I’m an artist too.” My littlest Goddaughter. She’s not comparing herself to me, knowing that I paint, but to her older sister, who I’ve taken to calling an artist as a nickname, since she’s taken arts and crafts on by storm in the past year.
“I know you are Darling. I mean, just look at all this art!” We’re surrounded by crayoned and markered masterpieces taped to every kitchen cupboard. She proceeds to walk me through the intricacies of each one.
“You know, Sweetheart, that I call your sister Artist sometimes.”
“Did you also know, that the day you were born, I had a very special name for you?”
“You did?” Her face, dejected a moment ago, glows.
“Yes, I held you when you weren’t even an hour old yet. And you waved your hands in the air, in the most graceful way I’d ever seen hands wave, and I called you my Dancer. You were dancing, and I told you then that you were just going to dance through life, and I asked you if you would be my little Dancer. And what do you think you answered?”
“I dunno.”
“Hmm, well, what if I asked you again, now? Will you be my Dancer?”
“Yes, I will!” And she demonstrates her dancey magic.

This is what words do.

I’ve been doubting myself a lot lately. It’s been a tough month, just now beginning the slow heavy slog of recovery from years of too much. Too much stress, too much strain, too much everything. And when I doubt myself, I have too many words, all of them wrong; or I have none. Last night, I spent the evening talking, and listening, to some dear friends who see more clearly than most. And I spoke of my doubt, of my worry, of my wondering whether I was doing anything worthwhile at all with my life, or if I still could. We all did. They each face difficulties much greater than mine, lives fuller and bodies frailer, and I doubted even bringing up my own sorrows and sweats. As I doubt writing what I write, so self-indulgent as it sometimes seems – doubting most when the words don’t come at all. But I did speak, and we came to the conclusion that it’s not about hitting the mark, whatever that might be, but about showing up. Speaking up. Fumbling through the hard conversations, dragging yourself out of bed. It’s about what you do with the days when you aren’t at your best. Talking about, writing, sharing, demonstrating the hard stuff – connecting.

This is what words do.


1 comment so far

  1. Moosilaneous on

    Thank you for this.
    And congratulations on demonstrating AND connecting. I sit here with tears in my eyes for your record of your fearless pursuit of:
    contact with an author who changed your life;
    a conversation with your son that I am hoping to share with my girls;
    support for that little dancer in being the amazing creature she is, separate from her sister;
    and your insight into the difficulties, and benefits of sharing reality – even with a select group who welcome it.


    I think Bonhomme may have something in prayer is like aiming. Certainly to-do lists are. The attendant self-reflection in trying to focus, organize and prioritize your life is a lot like prayer, in that you have to remember to leave room for happenstance, listening to the universe, whatever. That self reflection is like prayer, and one part of it is like aiming, so…

    There’s an idea there for the development.

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