A Walk in the Rain
I believe in vocabulary. I believe that we can only meaningfully experience what we can distinguish with words. A robust vocabulary allows us to experience life more richly.
A car engine serves as example. Anyone can open the hood of a car and look at the engine but, unless you know what each part is named and what it specifically does, the engine will appear only as a heap of metal that you pour oil into every so often. Only if names are given to the various working parts are we able to experience the car engine as meaningfully complex. Words allow us to absorb the world and the details in its every crack and crevice. Otherwise, much is passed by and taken for granted.
Not long ago, I was walking down a street in New York. It was a street in Manhattan adjacent to Wall Street. The sun had set yet the bright lights of the city fought back the darkness. An old friend was showing me around. The buildings around us stretched to the heavens as we named the landmarks around us. There was a faint smell in the air, like the smell of a state fair: a combination of funnel cakes, pretzels, beer, and steel. As I distinguished them, these smells each drew me into their individual worlds. The wind picked up, blowing leaves and trash in a whirling whimsical spiral before our eyes. Then, the smell changed to rain and electricity. Flashes of lighting danced, and I smirked as I imagined them playing a secret game of tag. For me the lightning and rain took on a life of their own.
And then it happened. Sheets of cool rain poured down on us out of the night sky. I was amazed at the way this unnatural place of brick and steel could be filled with nature’s rain. Names and words allowed me to see and feel what I might not have otherwise experienced. But I’m also left to wonder: What did I miss? What couldn’t I name?
I don’t know how to name all the parts of my car’s engine, but by making a conscious effort to learn them, I’m better able to experience the world. Because of words I’m able to distinguish and experience the world around me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.