Without Words

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s strange that words are so inadequate. Yet, like the asthmatic struggling for breath, so the lover must struggle for words, T.S. Eliot said. So true is this that my heart quickens at just reading it. I have always found words inadequate at important times in my life.

Words have won hearts and ended relationships without even trying. The thing about words is that they aren’t realities, and sometimes there are realities which cannot be broken down into any meaningful form of conveyance. We can say something as profound as I love you and still have it be chopped off at the knees. Because we love peanut butter and we love our pets. The word itself has become so muddied and in dire need of a return to its original depth that it’s near bereft of actual meaning. Words, words, words.

I had an elderly woman tell me fairly recently that something was keen, “or at least that’s what the kids are saying these days,” she finished. Words. Sometimes we lose touch with them like we lose touch with the heart of a lover. Having been both a writer and a public speaker I have seen firsthand how a wrong word, or sentence can have devastating effects. Just the same, sadly, a perfectly worded sentence can also be taken a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. We all have experiences and knowledge (or lack thereof) that we filter words through, making them our twisted own. So, are there any hope for words? Does the speaker have a chance?

Shakespeare has written that when words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain. It has also been said that words should be used as a tool for communication and not as a substitute for action. Words divide us, actions unite us. Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning. Ben Folds sang, “I love you more than I have ever found a word to say to you.” And to sum up this quote-a-rama, Mark Twain said that words are only a painted fire; a look is the fire itself.

So, maybe words aren’t enough. They can never convey what we truly mean; our hearts true intent. But, perhaps that’s okay. What are words, as much as I love them, without actions? I can describe to you in the most vivid terms the most exquisite sunrise, but it is only by taking your hand and leading you to it that you will truly understand and experience the intent behind those words. Words, then, are fine, but it is our actions—whatever form they may take—that define them for the listener. So, and perhaps this is a mind-boggling suggestion, maybe we should stop talking so much, writing so much (without experience what are our stories but guesses at what reality might be?), and simply act. It may not be enough (to refer back to the first part of this piece) to say that you love someone. In fact, it is not. The fire, to borrow from Twain, is in the look. Our lives, dear reader, are in the look.

  1. Jenni says:

    I love words. The look is hard for me.

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