The thing about a love affair with words is it’s easy to think they love you back.
After all, we’re surrounded by words every day.
We take them to bed, we wake up with them. We can breakfast, brunch and lunch with them. We can fall asleep listening to their magical sounds—follow their elegant scroll across a page, taste them on our tongues, form them with our hands.
But they can’t hold us in their arms, wipe away our tears, or beg us to go on, to continue sharing our beautiful gifts with the world. They can’t cup a heart in their hands and soothe it into a state of grace. I may be in love with words until the day I die, but they won’t shed a tear when I’m gone.
The thing about a love affair with words is it’s easy to forget the responsibility tied to them.
With words, we can dissipate or create a rainbow of emotions. With words, we bind ourselves to commitments and forge bonds where there were none. With words, we are united in laughter, destroyed in hate, blinded, trapped, cherished, or set free.
Words are the fabric of rhetoric and rebellion, slander and seduction, propaganda and prayer.
Wield words warily—for with words we can wipe clean the slate of friendship or slash through a family leaving only severed ties. We can destroy as readily as we can create. We can inflict as easily as uplift.
The thing about a love affair with words is it’s easy to love them on the surface without knowing them underneath.
Revolutions are launched with war cries. Billions are generated by catchphrases. Kin are recognized through clichés. Nations are created by mantras. Lifestyles are dictated by proverbs.
When the meaning of words is overpowered by the sound of them, we ride a wave of alliteration toward a cause, without pausing to paddle for a moment and think. Think about the meaning behind the motto. Think about the people behind the title. Think about the motivation behind the movement.
The thing about a love affair with words is we can love them but we have to know when to leave them.
To be great speakers, we must learn to listen. To produce great writing, we must be willing to sit still and quiet and merely observe. To be sure in our words, we must spend time saying them only inside our minds.
We must be willing to leave behind words when much more powerful tools need be engaged.
Like when we leap from our bike and chase down a would-be rapist on a college campus,
When we line up to donate blood in the wake of violence and needless loss,
When we hug or help another human in spite of who she or he will vote for in November.
When we stand shoulder-to-shoulder and in silence with strangers to show the solidarity of compassion, acceptance, and love.
It may be the capacity for language that make us human, but it’s our humanity that makes our lives meaningful.
Author: Jenna Lee Dillon
Image: Emily Sams Illustration
Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Katarina Tavčar