Yes, text is static. Yes, language is limited in conveying meaning. But, I believe that words, written and spoken, work in wondrous ways. Ways we aren’t always aware of.
What is this wonder I speak of? Think of your favourite book. What is the first sentence? What did your favourite character say in chapter 5? Maybe you aren’t a huge reader. Think of the first time you met someone special in your life. What was the first word they spoke to you? What exactly did they say last Monday?
Growing up, I have felt disillusioned about the wonders of our limited memory. And, specifically our memory for language. If language is how we communicate to others, how we form meaningful relationships, how we make major decisions in our lives, how we learn about the word we live in, then how can we remember so little of it?
I then remind myself that words can make you feel. It’s this feeling that helps us remember, helps us make decisions, help us be the thinking and opinionated human beings we are in the present moment.
I may not remember every word in the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I currently can’t think of the main character’s name, but I know how reading it made me feel. I know that the summer I read it going into my first year of university, that it changed my thinking. And changed a little bit of how I understood the universe and the people around me.
All words are metaphors. Yes in linguistics and psychology we learn how our brains process the information and semantics of words. But what I did not learn in these classes is how words made us feel. Not surprisingly, I learned this in anthropology. The study of humans. We are humans and one way or another, our minds, souls, body are connected, if not the united. Words are metaphors in that they are vehicles through which to help us know by comparison to previous experience. We most frequently speak of the cognitive knowing of a word. We often forget the bodily knowing of a word. An excellent example of this is explained by Andre Alexis in his book called Fifteen Dogs, when a dog given human intelligence wants to know the word “love”. Hermes explains:
“What you want to know, Majnoun, is not what love means. It means no one thing and never will. What you want to know is what Nira meant when she used the word. This is more difficult, because Nira’s word is like a long journey taken by one woman alone. She read the word in books, heard it in conversations, talked about it with friends and family. Miguel and you. No other being has encountered the word love as Nira has or used it in quite the same ways.”
Try explaining the definition of a new word to a child. Let’s say, the word “freedom”. Coming up with this child-friendly definition may enlighten your own understanding of the word and your deep experience of it.
All this to say that words affect us differently, and when a string of words are put together, a paragraph or large discourse, not only is our mind processing, but so is our body as it feels each word, aware of its place in time in space when it digests these words.
Perhaps this partially explains my hesitation to write down what I think or feel. Another person — reader, listener — knows these words as something else. How could they ever understand? Maybe they don’t need to understand. Maybe they can know through their own knowing. Isn’t that what life largely consists of? Interpreting, perceiving that which is around us for our own selves to know and be? Sounds quite lonely. “We live as we die alone”.
There are certainly other mediums through which to communicate and find connection with other people; however, language continues to be the primary form. Language is powerful. It is a mystery in itself. One I plan to immerse myself in and have an appreciation for with all of its wondrous ways.