This I Believe

Martena - ardmore, Tennessee
Entered on August 22, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: nature
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Flowers or Weeds

As a child, I would spend hours stringing together beautiful yellow flowers to make a necklace. If the necklace was too small I would add to it. If too large, I would subtract. Even after my beautiful works of art were maligned by others as “tawdry weeds” or “just smelly old dandelions”, my artwork remained pearls in my eyes. Language is like these necklaces. Words are the yellow flowers, lace these flowers together we get a strand. For the right fit, we may have to add or subtract.

String together words and to some they will be tawdry weeds, to others pearls of wisdom. There are so many wonderful words to make our necklace strands—for instance, conundrum, enigma or empathy—they have such fantastic sounds. Are they flowers or weeds? Two instances this week made me think more about the stringing art of words and language.

My grandson, Brett, is two and just starting to get his tongue around words. He speaks his own Bretterisms. He has two older sisters so whenever he needs anything he just points, jibber-jabbers and they get him what he wants, conundrum solved. The other day, my son, Mike, said Brett went to the refrigerator, opened the door and said, “I want a hotdog!” Everyone stopped in their tracks because a whole sentence- a complete strand–came together. Hunger will do that.

Everyone, once in a while has hunger for the right word but words like flowers aren’t easy to come by and sometimes harder to pick.

My friend, Paul, who was 83 last week, had another stroke. I visited him at the rehab center. Instead of stringing a thread of thought, his words hung in the air. Past words seemed easy to find but present words were frustratingly absent. It’s as if the mind’s gears were hung up in the “used to bes” and were slowly grinding to a halt—as if the oil of language was drained from the brain’s reservoir. The words were backed up and came in spurts. “Why? Here? Are? Why?” Paul tried to string the words in the right order but the chains links had been broken. I think he was asking me how I knew he was in the rehab center. I told him a friend had called me. He knew he was saying it wrong but became so frustrated with his thought process he forgot what he was asking– an enigma for both of us.

Brett and Paul, two ends of the spectrum of language. One is learning words and rules of the linking process; one trying to keep those words and rules intact, we in the middle trying desperately to understand.

In order to understand the communication process, language explorers have been scaling the peaks and valleys and have come up with the concept of language as an iceberg. Words and rules are just the tip of the iceberg. The submerged layers are the social and emotional strata that define meaning. At the bottom of the iceberg is empathy.

Whereas Brett is at the tip of the iceberg learning words and rules, Paul is at the bottom. Brett’s art is in the fresh stages of development, Paul’s art is falling apart–connections are withering and drooping. Both are struggling for the right words- Why? Here? Are? Why? I don’t know Brett, I don’t know Paul, but I can hold your hand with empathy and be there through this transforming process—this thawing of the iceberg.

Dandelions, also, if not picked, transform. They transform into shrouds of white fragile filaments. Folklore would have us believe this white shrouded globe is a clock. The number of breaths it takes to blow these filaments from the globe is the time of day. For some, the breaths are still many, for others, nighttime is near.

Conundrum, enigma, empathy—flowers or weeds? We, in the middle decide.