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Have you ever heard the words I love you?

Have you ever asked someone Are you an alcoholic?

Have you ever been told by your mother I have an ovarian cancer?

Have you ever heard the words Mom died this morning?

Have you ever heard the words You are the woman I have been looking for all my life?

I had an interesting conversation with my students about the strange nature of words the other day. The conclusion was surprising, revealing, and liberating at the same time.

What do we hear when we hear words?  Is the meaning contained in the intention of the one who speaks the words, or in the interpretation of the one who receives them?

Do you believe in what you hear? What does it mean to believe?

Some people believe that words are sacred and what we say should be crafted in a manner that shows the highest consideration, because the words create the reality of our daily lives.

Some people believe that lies work.  They say: I lied because it was the best way to handle what was happening and no one was hurt.

What kind of lying would you excuse?  Is there a “good lying”?

When we receive the horrific news of someone close dying, we feel an unbearable heaviness.  We immediately know that the words we hear will change us forever. They will be etched into our hearts and remembered more by the feeling that was associated with the moment of receiving them than the actual meaning.

But what happens when we hear words that make us happy?

We want to believe them with all our being.  But how do we know they communicate the truth?

The answer:  We don’t know.  We can only believe that what we hear is true.  All we have in life is faith.

I believe that I know what I want to communicate.

I believe that the other person is honest.

I believe that I understand what the other person is saying.

Someone said, “It’s disappointing not to be sure of anything.  Do we know anything at all?”

I say: How liberating!  I don’t have to get it “right.”  I just have to have faith in myself and in the other.

Is there any other alternative?

What do you think about words, dear reader?

[After I finished writing this post I stumbled upon (a friend of mine had sent it to me) an interesting interpretation of how people use words in poetry in the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Blog.]

16 Responses to “Life of faith and the unbearable heaviness of words”

  1. Mike Clark says:

    I once knew a man
    who paused longingly
    in uttering his words
    giving each syllable
    and piece of thought
    a certain reverence.
    It got so
    that I listened
    to the spaces
    between his words
    to find deeper meaning.

  2. Kristin says:

    Some say words are sacred. Some say english can be a dangerous language because words have so many different meanings. Words can change peoples’ lives. Failure to speak can do the same. The timing of words can also make a world of difference. I believe people can feel in their hearts when words are right and good and can trust in their instincts to tell when it is time to speak.

    Lying has consequences, some may be unknown or unintended. Whether or not others know you lied, you know. I’m not absolute about it. One may need to lie to protect life or family. But it’s not something to take lightly.

    Though we can’t know things for certain, we do have the ability to feel the truth, to feel what’s right and good. I believe it’s a God-given gift and we can all do it. It’s our protection against being misled by those who are powerful and persuasive. And it’s a skill that can be honed. The old saying “trust your instincts” is a good one to live by.

  3. Danuta says:

    I think this is the lie that is the heaviest of all, the one that weighs us down and tears us up. This is the one that makes us die.

    And even when the body is still alive the essence of that person is not because the person rejected him/herself in that lie in order to keep “peace”.

    The so called “peace” is an illusion anyway, because the one who lied is not in peace with him/herself and this, the peace within, is the beginning and the end of any peace in my understanding.

  4. Laura Yoo says:

    “Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

    This is from Toni Morrison’s Nobel lecture. It’s an amazing lecture about the life of language. Every time I read it, I am re-energized about my work. You must have a listen!

  5. Laura Yoo says:

    The link:

    • danutahinc says:

      Thank you, Laura,

      “Once upon a time, …” visitors ask an old woman a question. Who are they, these children? What did they make of that encounter? What did they hear in those final words: “The bird is in your hands”? A sentence that gestures towards possibility or one that drops a latch? Perhaps what the children heard was “It’s not my problem. I am old, female, black, blind. What wisdom I have now is in knowing I cannot help you. The future of language is yours.”

      Here is the link:


  6. Beata says:

    “… To nieprawda, ze na wszystko istnieja slowa. Nieprawda jest rowniez, ze zawsze mysli sie w slowach. Do dzis o wielu rzeczach mysle poza slowami…. Obszary wewnetrzne nie pokrywaja sie z mowa, wloka czlowieka tam, gdzie nie moga przebywac slowa. Czesto decydujace jest to, o czym nie mozna nic powiedziec, a impuls, zeby o tym mowic, przebiega pomyslnie, poniewaz rozmija sie wlasnie z tym najwazniejszym. Wiare, ze mowienie zaradzi zametowi, znam jedynie z Zachodu….”

    Herta Muller “Krol klania sie i zabija”

  7. I am, the words of invisibility. Only through them do I exist. If my written words were to ever vanish then so would I. I meander down my path of misfortune and despair while trying to make sense of it all and these words help me. I’m a child cowered in the corner with ink stained, trembling hands. I’m clothed in garments of solitude and fear, garments which my body has outgrown but my mind has not. I compose the words of my existence but the ink in my pen fades as quickly as the years pass and soon my pages will be blank forever.

    There in the corner of my universe, is where my words first appeared, where I appeared in Mead notebooks, which I kept hidden under my mattress during my years of adolescence. We don’t have the right to vote until we’re 18 and in my family the freedom of speech was prohibited. Children have no rights. They have no voice. At least they didn’t in my world and my desperate need to speak, I believe, led to my desperation to write. For me, it’s simply a matter of life or death, and a matter of what I leave behind when I’m gone.

    To be seen or to not be seen is the question. Learning to survive as a child was about learning how to disappear, how to go unnoticed, so I cloaked myself with words, written expressions, utterances to remind me that I was a living human being. My mother’s vocabulary was small and her few words were never worthy when speaking to animals, much less people. She always spoke loudly with a cutting edge and I was nothing more than a cutout doll being maneuvered and molded by words of destruction. While her words were erasing me my words were creating me.

    I lived in notebooks between the blue narrow lines of living and dying. It was a place where I could talk about anything. The fresh handprint on my cheek, the welts on my back, or the fingernail indentions on my wrists. I learned quickly to silence myself to escape my mother’s wrath. I spoke only when spoken to and did my best to fly just below the radar of her scrutiny. My journals gave me a place to hide, everything. Myself. My opinions. My dreams. My hopes. My frustrations. My fears. In the same place where I stored my discarded love. The same place where I discussed with myself the possible reasons why all the other boys and girls at school treated me with the same cruelty as my mother, or why my teachers somehow thought I wasn‘t as smart as the other students.

    People can’t hurt an invisible man so I vanished into my own little world where I could say anything, be anything, and do anything. As an adult I live behind my walls built by words where no one can see me but if they choose, they can read me and know me. They may hate me, admire me, resent me, or love me because of the words I write, but they can never hurt me again. My words protect me now as much as they did when I was child. Therefore I will continue to live and write invisibly until my pen runs out of ink. And when it does I will vanish and leave my words behind. As long as my writing is seen then my body isn’t necessary. After all, it never was.

    RD Scott

  8. brenk says:

    I like Zac’s reply. Only through words can we eliminate the most misunderstanding from our communication. As Danuta’s class knows, I like words, and I like agreement on what a word means, if that is possible. I think it’s important for people to realize what the other person means. Body language shows that, but so do words, and how they are said. As a new mediator, I see that we need them to try to resolve issues, otherwise, we’d just sit there, without resolving anything. The words of the speaker may be the truth as the speaker knows it or may be lies or excuses as the speaker may or may not know. Many times, only actions over time, will let the receiver know whether the words can be believed. Some words you remember bring you comfort after the loss of a family member. Some words are a stab in the heart when uttered by someone close, in a criticizing manner. Some people purposely use words to hurt. Others try their best to say the words in a way that is positive and won’t hurt. But words are our most important means of communicating.

  9. Brandi P. says:

    Being a Proud Lady GaGa Fan this post reminds me of her song “Teeth.” The song is about telling the truth no matter what. Yet in the song she says “Give me something that’ll save me I need a man that makes it alright.” She’s in conflict with herself she wants the truth but at the same time if its unpleasent she doesn’t want to hear it. Its that sort of animosity with in ourselves we often feel as a culture. Lady Gaga admits the only thing she hates in the world more than money is “The truth” she says she’d take a big fat lie anyday. She has reach a conclusion that the truth isn’t always pretty, it hurts. Its nice to think of a world where everyone’s honest like the movie “lie to me” made fun of but its foolish to think that kind of world will make you feel better. Words have SO much power. Why wouldn’t they its how we communicate. When relationships don’t work out its usually communication problems. I know myself I want to be a songwriter with out words I have no dream. I’d be Rootless.

  10. lauren merrill says:

    Words aren’t much of anything. It’s the meaning and feeling that arises from them. we ultimately choose the people in our lives because we can feel their spirit when they speak. there’s a connection. when people talk it is meaningless. they are only sound waves; what we consider language. just sounds. but you feel what people are saying in your heart, not through your ears. part of their thoughts are being let go and spread. and we feel a piece of who people are when they are genuine in their words.

  11. David A says:

    I am a very rational person, i take things for what they are and i try to take things the way people say them… I dont try to analyze a conversation and pick out what i hope that person was trying to say. Reading this post made me think about a scene from the movie The Matrix in which the main character is talking to a computer program

    :Rama-Kandra: No. I don�t mind. The answer is simple. I love my daughter very much. I find her to be the most beautiful thing I�ve ever seen. But where
    we are from, that is not enough. Every program that is created must have a purpose; if it does not, it is deleted. I went to the Frenchman to save my daughter. You do not understand.
    Neo: I just have never . . .
    Rama-Kandra: . . . heard a program speak of love?
    Neo: It�s a human emotion.
    Rama-Kandra: No, it is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies.

  12. Caitlin S. says:

    In the past I have had a losing battle with words. There was no actual battle between words and myself but only a battle inside. I let my emotions and insecurities dictate the meaning of words or their “hidden meanings”. There was a time when if someone said “I love you”, I would analyze it. Why did he say the words so slowly? Does love me the same to him as me? Why is he using that tone of voice?
    To be honest I got myself in trouble a lot by misinterpreting words. I over analyzed and let my insecurities or anxiety morph the meaning only to be wrong about the whole thing in the end. It created conflict, hurt feelings and confusion, when they are really just words.
    Words are important though, and I still struggle with them. I struggle with them coming out of my own mouth and struggle with them coming from other people.
    But I need words in my life for communication; whether it is good moments or bad moments.

  13. Robert B says:

    Words… What do they really mean? We know their definitions or at least think we do. We try to say the right words at the right time because we want the other person to feel better, last sad, safe, loved, fill in the _____.

    This is what words were made to do. It does not matter if it is not true or even if we believe or know that the words are not truthful or sincere. We just want the words to serve the purpose of filling in the _____.

    We should not place too much emphasis or meaning to the words, just accept them for the purpose that they are serving at the moment.