“A word is dead/ When it is said,/ Some say./ I say it just/ Begins to live/ That day.” So says Emily Dickinson.
I believe in the word. Not THE WORD, like the word of the Lord, but only because the word of the Lord doesn’t speak to me. But I still believe in the word. Growing up I heard, “Believe in the word of the Lord,” which got shortened to “Believe in the word.” And I did, and I do, believe in the word. Only, it is the word of Lucy Maud Montgomery and of Rumi and of Sappho. It is the word of Margaret Atwood and of Edwidge Danticat and of Marge Piercy. It is the word of Olive Schreiner who said, “We were equals once when … babes on our nurse’s knees. We will be equal again when they tie up our jaws for the last sleep.” It is the word of Edie Brickell who said, “This eye looks with love, and this eye looks with judgment. Free me; take the sight out of this eye.” It is the word of Margaret Mead who said, “…a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world.” It is the word of Charlotte Perkins Gilman who said that “there are a great many women behind [the pattern of the wallpaper].” Gilman says this to me over and over, in my sleep and in my waking life. She says it to me in my car and while I brush my teeth and when I am crying quietly in my bed. And I believe in the word because it speaks to my soul.
The word, written and spoken language, the strange construction of symbols, concrete and ever-shifting, is what we rely on to communicate the word which is not a word at all, but an expression which is not an expression, but an exhumation, an exhalation of lives past. It is a breath of life from those often dead who know us. It is a breath of life, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, breathed from their existence into ours providing us with a chance to exist and exhale ourselves into others. And so we perpetuate and are validated with each breath, each inhale, each exhale. We exist not because of the air we breathe or our ability to breathe it, but because of the words we breathe, which are not words. Because, as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel said, “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and whisper’d in the sounds of silence,” I believe in the word.
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