Monday, November 10, 2008

The power of a word

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. Lucille Ball
In the 1950s when Lucille Ball was pregnant and filming the I Love Lucy show, network execs were worried about having a pregnant star on TV. Eventually, after checking with several religious leaders about the propriety of her condition on air, they agreed to let the show play -- but they couldn't use the word pregnant, they could only say, 'expecting'.

How things change. How times change.

On Saturday night, C.C. and I went to the Just For Laughs International comedy tour show. There were no women in the cast, so pregnancy was not an issue. And no one was worried about the propriety of words -- they were colourful to say the least. Sprinkled through every performers routine, the 'f' bomb posed as adjective, adverb and verb. I'd have preferred the word 'pregnant'.

Words can be powerful things.

Yesterday, as I unpacked and sorted through boxes, I listened to an Andrea Bocelli CD. One of the songs was, The Prayer.

There was a time when hearing the music and the words of that song was a huge trigger for me. When it would take me back to those crazy-making days of Conrad weaving his web of deceit and lies through my life. This song in particular had great portent. I first heard it playing on my cellphone when he was supposedly lying in hospital in California on life support. Over the hissing cadence of the life support system breathing up and down, Andrea Bocelli sang, "I pray you'll be alright." I was in Vancouver with my daughters on our way to Tofino for a week's holiday. I was trying not to think about Conrad's imminent death. Trying to pretend all was okay in my world. We had just arrived back at my sister's home when my cell phone rang. The girls jumped out of the car and ran into the house as I sat in the driver's seat, listening to the life support machine breathing. And then Andrea Bocelli began to sing, 'I prayer you'll be alright'. It was the night of a full moon. I whispered words of love into the phone, sent them up on a moonbeam connecting me to Conrad on his death bed. Showering him with strength and courage. He'd written out his wishes to have his 'minions' take care of me and playing this song was one of his wishes. He wanted me to be alright.

I didn't feel alright. I mean, really, I was so tragic. So misdirected. So sad and lonely and confused. So frightened. So terrified.

And Andrea Bocelli sang on.

Today, I can laugh at that vision of me. The faithful loving woman praying for her dying lover on moonbeams and stardust, listening to the hissing of a machine while Andrea Bocelli sang and her heart pounded out a frantic beat, tears pouring down as she sat under the moon and cried.

Today, I can love that woman who was so lost and not be triggered by the words of a song.

Today, I can hear The Prayer, surrender the past and fall into the moment, in love with all that I am, all that is and all that ever will be in my life. I am free.

But I still have issues with the word 'fuck'.

Where did this lowly word come from? Why do four little letters strung together in a word disturb me?

And so, I went on a hunt for its etymology. The Oxford English Dictionary, which according to Wikipedia, first printed the word in its 1965 edition, is unsure of its origins. Etymologists argue that the word has been around since at least the 12th century. Holy Fuck! It sure is an old word. Where was it hiding out? Maybe, like wine, it just needed time to age to its full maturity.

I remember the first time I heard the word. I was about twelve. At school in France, on the bus home. Someone had scrawled it on the side of an old cement wall. Someone on the bus knew its meaning. They shared their knowledge with their seatmate, who shared it with the kid behind and suddenly, with the speed of fire through prairie grasses, twitters erupted through the bus as uniform clad children nervously shared the full portent of the word. Even in France, the word was already claiming its place in our lexicon.

My daughters use the word -- though they try really hard not to use it in my presence -- unless they're trying to get a reaction that is. Like Pavlov's dogs, I can be guaranteed to burst out in anger when one of them throws an 'f-bomb' into a conversation.

Perhaps it is that every generation wants to claim a word as its own. Or, perhaps like Lucille Ball, this generation is defying convention, pushing limits, and breaking rules.

Challenge is, when we break rules we usually set new rules yet to be broken. In my youth, 'hell' and 'damn' were no-nos. Today, they've lost their power to disturb, broken out of the rules limiting their behaviour and pushed across the barriers into commonplace.

Perhaps it is that the 'f' word is breaking rules -- and as every generation knows, the rules are meant to be broken.

I can only imagine the words yet to come.

And so, I come back to optimism. How I look at the world is a reflection of how I see myself. The words I use define my position. Am I powerless or powerful?

The power isn't in the words I use, it's in how I use the words to describe my state of being, my outlook on life, my ability to create change, defy convention, break the rules or create new meaning in my life.

Words don't have power -- their power comes from what I vest in them.

How I take the words in, the power I give them is up to me.

I can take the power out of a word, or a song, by looking at the context of its meaning, its value, its meaning in my life today.

Once upon a time, The Prayer was a trigger. Today, it is just a beautiful song I love to listen to.

Just like the word fuck. It's just a word. Has no value, nor meaning in my life, unless I give it one. It's not a word I choose to use. It has little meaning for me. But, for the stars of a comedy show, it had context, it had value -- they used it to create laughter. Just like Lucille Ball used her pregnancy to create laughter and change the world of television.

I like laughing.

Think I'll laugh at myself and let the words go as I celebrate this day in which I can use, or not use, any word I want because I'm free to make choices that love and support me.

The question is: Does your language empower or disempower you? Are you restoring your faith in yourself by breaking free of the words that limit you and creating a lexicon unique to you?

No comments: