Words are tricky things, aren’t they? They can be meaningless, flippant, and vapid. They can be life-affirming and challenging. They can be confused, misunderstood. They can be wrong.
I’ve lived with some labels, some wordy explanations about life and who I am, that I’m starting to understand were a little off-mark. How can something like language introduce me to a world filled with color, light, darkness, emotion, and sleep? How can language explain dreams — awake or unawake?
Don’t misunderstand me, I love words, I love language. I’m actually pretty obsessed with it. I mean, I am a writer. But I see its limitations.
I also see the possibilities.
We’ve all tried to describe snow to someone from southern Florida, or the color red to a blind person, or our Gramma’s to-die-for chocolate chip cookies that would stick to our fingers when we’d eat them fresh out of the oven. But it’s not the words we choose that are creating something — it’s the act of choosing them.
We are all sculptors in a way. Words are our mud. Or stone. Somethings are more pliable to describe, while others — other moments, memories, pains — are slowly chiseled through with a sharp mind.
Lately, I’ve been trying to find my words. They’ve wandered a bit. I’ve been trying to “say what I mean” and instead there’s a lot of, “um.” What I want to say is this: Life is hard. Especially when it passes you and you didn’t have enough time to label it correctly, so you try to look back and relabel, reorganize, and even then you feel rushed and your words are not quite right. But the attempt chips away to carve out some kind of meaning from a twisting, breathless memory.
Trauma is the hardest to explain. The words lie flat on the pain — neither a balm nor a way out. You apply them like bandages that don’t help fully heal. You soak up the pooling damage with them, but the words are never enough. Until, maybe someone else tries to heal their own pain with the same words, and in that expression you find hope. Their attempt at meaning holds the same shape as yours, though both may be lacking, and there’s another layer of meaning in the sameness.
Words remind me that I’m not alone. Even when I might talk to myself, the words are not mine. Other broken hearts have sculpted their lives with the same subject-verb disagreements, the same ill-fitting adjectives, the same industry lingo.
Words have helped us discover the details in an abstract world. We lean in and focus more, pointing and saying “this happened.” And then we lean in a little more and say, “it hurt me.” And a little more: “it was wrong.”
And from that leaning in, holding onto language as we peer over the edge of ourselves, we discover more meaning in single words. Love. Pain. Self. Others.
And if we are really paying attention, we discover more than that. We discovered that, just as our pain is often bigger than words, so are we.