ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
the ingredients of words
Words contain questions. I know that sounds funny. But it’s true. While words give us answers like who we are talking about or where they are or how much they’ve had to drink, they also contain questions, like what did he mean by that? In fact, the very word what could be a question or an answer. Words can tell you what she was wearing and also leave you wondering, what’s going to happen next?
Pick a word, any word, and I'll bet you'll see what I mean. Here's a random list: light, bar, clock, sort, kiss, swim, trace. Are these words verbs or nouns or adjectives? [It’s time to sort the laundry. –or- He’s the sort of guy you don't want to date.] Are they commands or descriptions? [Trace that call! –or- She left only a trace of perfume her lover's torso.] Are they meant to be friendly or foreboding? [It was their first kiss. –or- That’s the kiss of death.] I could go on...
Everyday we use hundreds of words without really thinking about their meaning, without even acknowledging the questions. Take the word illegitimate, a word that -- until very recently -- was widely used to indicate a child born of two people who were not married. To me, the unspoken question in this word is, Really?
Consider the phrase Happy Holidays. It seems innocent enough, a straightforward gesture of goodwill. Apparently though, there are many questions lurking in those two simple words. Enough of them to evoke complaints and pleadings for us to use the words Merry Christmas instead, so as not to exclude Christ in the season’s greetings. But Happy Holidays is meant to be inclusive not exclusive. It is meant to enfold the Christian celebration along with many others.
The best example of a word that comes with questions is love. I think Howard Jones has my back on this when he asks, What is love, anyway? The question is not merely lyrical. Love is so vast that it defies explanation. More than this, it begs for questions. Questions which force us to stop and pay attention. To examine ourselves and our actions, our thoughts and feelings, our preconceived notions. Love asks us to reach beyond our ideas of ourselves in order to find bigger answers.
We give honor to words, to ideas, to beliefs, to our common humanity, by acknowledging the things that lie outside our understanding and experience. These questions hidden in words are born of the things that awaken our curiosities, things that form questions on our lips, our hearts, our minds (and possibly other parts of our anatomies). Rigidity is good for things like dams, for objects which need to hold things back, to constrict and restrain. Trees, grasses, flowers, rivers, birds, minds, and spirits, these things need to flow and to bend. Let’s acknowledge the questions in our words and ideas of the world. Let’s embrace them and take time to discover their secrets.
Or as the master once put it:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Be well everyone.
Stay in your magic.
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