Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Words: a weapon of mass destruction

One great use of words is to hide our thoughts. Voltaire
It was one of those comments that once spoken seem to gather clarity, sparkle with truth and enlightenment. To hang in the air like radioactive fallout, peppering my being with their veracity and depth of meaning.

I was at dinner with three beautiful women friends when I uttered the words. We were laughing and sharing as only four wise crones can do. We share the same decade on our calendar of life and we enjoy shared experiences in a coach's circle. We all four love life. Love its intricacies. It mysteries and its unexpected moments of clarity and feeling.

Like this one.

"I have always used words, not to get my way, but to talk sense out of what's going on around me," I told my friends after one had shared a story of gaining understanding of another through something they had said.

I heard the words, felt their leap into the air around me and knew -- there is a truth here worth grasping. "It's as if I believe there are perfect words that will make perfect sense of any nonsense if only I can find the right words to put together."

They were stunning words for me to hear. I watched them float around me and followed the trail back to their beginnings. I was an archaeologist digging for all I was worth in the lessons of the utterance of past words.

As a child, my older sister, by two years, was sweet and kind and gentle and caring. She was the middle girl. The one who is often overlooked between the son and the eldest daughter and the youngest, me, who was always into something, doing something, being something she was not supposed to.

Our parents fought. Lots. It was hard on my sister's gentle heart. Hard to understand. Hard to grasp.

And, because I didn't like to admit I was scared, ever, I used to sit with her in the dark of our room where she had crawled from her bed into mine, the covers a tent around our heads and tell her stories that would make her laugh, make us forget our fear. My words, my story-telling words, carried us far away from that place where loud voices yelled into the night. They were our conduit to safety.

Growing up, I treated her as the younger sister. Grown up, I make sure I tell people she is 'the older sister'. She still carries that beautiful sweetness, that innocence, that gentle heart into the world. I still want to protect her, be the older sister -- just not in physical appearance. It's important not to let time wear me down faster in the eyes of the world!

Last night, as I said what I did about words, I realized, I'm still doing it. Still trying to use words to carry me away from fear. Still using words to make sense where I perceive nonsense reigns. To make others see, I have clearer vision.

When I was a child, my mother threatened all sorts of deeds that never made sense. Not because she was an awful mother. She wasn't. She was sweet and gentle, beautiful, caring, kind. And, she was scared and confused and worried. Four young children. A foreign land. Never enough money. A husband who was away most of the time, far away and when he was home, a house that had to be silent to not disturb his peace of mind, to not cause him to erupt into anger that my mother never understood. Anger that sent we four kids into wide-eyed silence, and a certain stillness that only those who are so far out of their depth would recognize and believe, to move would ensure certain drowning.

Words were my bastion.

My father loved words.

I learned to love them too. Words were the only way I knew I could reach him. And so, I used them freely. Words were what I used to make sense of the world around me. A world that was at times magical. At times terrifying. Words opened doors to communication. Words were also fraught with peril. Should I misuse a word, ridicule awaited. I learned to use my words wisely.

My mother sometimes, in a fit of despair we would later learn had a medical word attached to it, would sometimes threaten to kill herself. A knife held to her breast, we children would cry and and huddle together, and comfort each other all the while praying and hoping and feeling lost. What could we do?

Words came to my rescue.

Words make sense of the unbelievable. Words make sense of nonsense. Words connect. Words will talk her out of it.

I believed there was a perfect word that would soothe her. A perfect sentence that would connect her to the power of love all around. I believed I could take her sadness away with words. I could ease her pain with the right consonants mixed with vowels dotted with punctuation that would connect to her in such a way she would 'see' her vision was impaired, and all she needed to do was drop the knife and embrace the truth all around her.

I believed in words.

Still do.

"My mother and I still don't have a great relationship," I told my friends last night. "I've always believed it was because I hadn't yet found the right words to connect to her. And so, instead of just listening, of just being there for her where she's at, I keep trying to find the right words to paint a picture of the beauty of the world I see that will take her away from the darkness of the world I perceive her to see. I use my words to 'help' her see more clearly she's wrong to look at the world the way she does!"

It was one of those clear moments where my eyes opened to the truth. I may have 20/20 vision. I don't have the power nor the words to 'make' anyone see the world the way I see it. I have been using my words to make my mother see what I see and I have run out of words because what my mother needs is the one thing she doesn't have a lot of -- time. My time, my presence, my being present for her.

My mother sees the beauty of the world around her as only she can see it. She is sweet and gentle, kind of heart and giving and she is irrasicble, challenging, confusing to me too. She is who she is. My mother. The woman who gave me life. She doesn't need my words slicing into her peace of mind. She doesn't need my words searing her heart with their desire to cut through to the 'truth'.

She needs Love. In all its unconditional and unlimited beauty.

Truth is, there are no perfect words in love. There's only Love.

And in Love, there's only that space where words are not necessary to make sense of who we are, of our connection. For me, words become the clothes line upon which I hang meaning and sometimes, I get strung up in trying to make sense of someone else's meaning because I'm not listening to what is written on their hearts.

Words will not connect me to my mother. Words keep us distant. The only sensible thing to do is leave the clothes to dry in the sun as I open up my mind and listen with a loving heart to what my mother has to share.

I'm learning. My words are the weapon, not the medicine, when I use them to cut through to someone else's heart. When I recognize the value of my words, and let them go lovingly into the world, I no longer have to protect myself with words, I simply have to be present in my heart. For in my heart, I am always safe when I breathe into that space where there are no words, only Love.


Anonymous said...



this is one of your best pieces - EVER; self-effacing, instructive, beautifully written ... with words!

we all have our weight, the yoke we carry, that goes back to our troubles - large or small - understanding things from our childhood and families of origin

my challenge - to let go of the words, the thoughts, the ideas - that helped me makes sense of things when I was 5, knowing they were the words and thoughts of a 5 year old

not that all things make more sense at 58, but I know the 5 year old is always talking too .... so I try to interpret and cut myself slack

when I read what you wrote, it helps me with understanding

have a great day,


Maureen said...

I think sometimes we use words because we fear the silences where no words exist. Love has a way of getting through, over, beyond the silences.


Anonymous said...

i can relate with this post, and copied the last paragraph and sent it to myself, so that i could read it again when i get home.

L.L. Barkat said...

In space, there are perhaps still words. Unspoken. Have you ever felt that, looking into someone's eyes?

Sandra Heska King said...

This is an amazing piece, Louise. The words you've chosen and the imagery you've conveyed speak volumes. I felt like I was picking my way through a beautiful flower garden, stopping to sniff each blossom.

M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you everyone for your words -- you touch my heart -- and yes, in the silence there is a world of words unspoken. In the silence, there is always... Love.



S. Etole said...

I no longer feel so guilty for the lack of words I experience ...

M.L. Gallagher said...

Susan -- your beauty shines - in images and in the clarity of the words you share so eloquently.