“[Words] do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together.”
Sometimes words march through my mind like soldier ants on a mission, orderly and controlled. At other times, they swirl violently in the currents and high winds of emotion. Occasionally, they drift like clouds, beautiful and beyond reach.
I’ve spent countless hours in archives reading the words of people long dead. I’ve held the centuries-old parchment that a mother touched long ago, placing quill on paper to share the grief she felt over the death of her child. Her words conveyed anguish still so palpable that my eyes filled with tears as I read. I’ve read court records–the dry, official language that nevertheless reveals details of spousal abuse and sexual transgressions. From both the heartfelt words of love and grief and the cold words of law and bureaucracy, we uncover the buried lives of others and unearth truths about the past.
We use words to express love: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” We use words to create images: “The fog comes on little cat feet.” We use words to proclaim liberty and freedom: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” “We the people.”
But sometimes words are too much. “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!” Eliza Doolittle sings in My Fair Lady. “Show me!’ she demands of her would-be suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill
There are times when we want don’t want words, we want action, whether it is fighting, loving, or marching. We want someone to do something. “Don’t just stand there. Help them! Help me!” We need a hug, a kiss, a caress, or a human touch.
Sometimes words are inadequate. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.” We cannot make a broken heart whole again. I cannot heal your heart, as much as I want to. But we—but I– put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard because that’s all we can do.