I read an essay to my students today, and I cried. The essay was about family, but I could not personally relate to the message. Instead, I cried because of the beauty of the writing. The woman writing the essay held nothing back and resisted giving into a pity party. She made me feel her strength and love. And she did it all through words.
I read an essay written by a former student today, and I almost cried. If I’d been alone rather than in the middle of a classroom bustling with activity, I would have. This young woman paid me one of the best compliments of my career. She never said my name or “thank you,” but she credited me for inspiring her life, not just teaching her something about Charles Dickens. And she did it all through words.
Words provide a lifeline between generations, between genders, between races, between classes, between countries and continents. Words connect the world as it is now to how it’s been since the beginning of time. Words are power. I believe in the power of words.
Like any other power, words can be used in a harmful way. They can cause misunderstandings, fights, feuds, and wars. But more often, words can be used in a healing way. The first step to ending an argument, big or small, is the simple phrase, “I’m sorry.”
Some words inspire and endure for generations: the plays of William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen, the novels of Jane Austen and Toni Morrison, the poems of Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou, the speeches of William Jennings Bryant and Martin Luther King, Jr., the songs of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. These words are studied and dissected. People who don’t even know the original source quote the words in conversation. The words begin to stand alone.
Some words have a fleeting impact: the simple “excuse me” when two people bump in a crowded space, a “thank you” for a small favor, a “hello” when a person enters a room. These words are often used again and again without much thought. But they still have power to make someone smile.
At times, words can change a life. “I love you” or “Will you marry me?” or “I do” or “It’s a girl!” accompany momentous events.
Words provide information and comfort and laughter and joy. Words alone can change the world for the better. This I believe.