This I Believe

Sommer - Omaha, Nebraska
Entered on April 2, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Have you ever sat down and considered a word, rolled it around on your tongue, repeated it aloud and then combined it just to see how its nuances change? I was twelve when I first came across the word “ineluctable.” Not knowing what it meant, I pocketed it, determined to examine it in full detail later. Your tongue, the instrument from which sound is molded, jumps, glides, touches and skitters away in a lovely dance just to form that word. When I eventually discovered its meaning – unavoidable, inevitable – I was hypnotized. It is a word owned by fate, a soldier of destiny. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it. You have to respect a word like that.

I believe in the power of words. Not just written or spoken, but the whole of their nature and the way they can be undone and transformed. Some words are mysterious and shadowy, like “elusive,” “obelisk,” and nocturne.” Some words are exciting because they sound innocent but have bizarre meanings, like “defenestration” – the act of throwing someone or something out of a window. “Imbroglio” is a word that sounds foreign and doesn’t immediately invoke anything queer but its very nature is confusion. It is not just a simple misunderstanding, it is a perplexing, confused heap – complicated by the nature of humanity and embittered by disagreement. It is a word that ruins friendships, forces collision and derision between partners and arms warheads between nations. Now that is a word with power.

Combining words makes them far more interesting and often dualistic. Take for example the phrase “serial contrarian.” I ran across this word the other day and felt drawn to all of its possibilities. A serial contrarian is the king of opposites – diametrical opposition within someone’s nature. You get right to the heart of someone’s intimate self with a descriptor like “serial contrarian.”

Words, when used by clever or careless people, can alter perceptions and cause lasting damage. Consider the words “unforgivable,” “impossible,” and “worthless.” These are the last words of marriages, childhoods and dreams.

Fortunately for us, words also have the power to mend, heal and cement. The word “love” is thrown around with bravado and used in greeting card punch lines, yet we still understand its elemental importance. We still identify its intimacy.

Words can represent the whole of our being; our most secretive, evocative self-important, fearsome places. I believe in the power of words because they become what we make of them. Because they can harm and destroy and rebuild and give hope. Before cancer stole my mother’s life, she told me that spending her last couple of weeks at home in bed with all of us made her feel cozy, secure and pampered. These three words that she used to describe her last moments of life dissolved my anxiety and sadness and we were able to enjoy each other without desperation. Now that is power.