“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.
My father loved words. Until dementia stole his cognitive sharpness he would read for hours, do obscure crossword puzzles, play Scrabble with my mother. Like some of us on Facebook, he would become annoyed by little things. The word ‘momentarily’ bothered him. They said it on the TV all the time, ‘we will be back momentarily’. The word means ‘for a moment’ he would declare, not ‘in a moment’ which was how they used it. But we are verbal people, and our languages are ever evolving. So a word used incorrectly 20 years ago may be redefined in current dictionaries. That preciseness we were taught to apply is now murky and indistinct. We make up words on the fly, coin new ways to verbalize nouns (Google that!) and it becomes accepted.
Almost forty years ago today I was struggling with words. I was on my hands and knees singing ‘Nearer my God to thee’ as I timed contractions with a digital clock (you trying doing subtractions when you are in exquisite pain!) about to experience the joy of birth for the first time. I assumed I was fully prepared, I was a nurse, so of course I knew it all! I didn’t bother with Lamaze classes (again, what could they teach me?) but I had read a book written by a (male) obstetrician, whose last name should have given me a hint as to his credibility: Dick! But his theory, for how could he have proven it, was that labor pains are only painful if the person experiencing them doesn’t understand the source of the discomfort. Once a mother understands the physiology of the feeling, without fear, she will be pain free! It is ignorance which leads to fear which leads to pain. I bought it! Right until the first real contraction hit me! Then I was on my hands and knees praying like I’d never prayed before! The hell with fear! The hell with lack of knowledge! This was real!
I am fortunate to be a member of a group on Facebook who regularly post pictures of their adventures in the beautiful mountainous regions of Wales, mostly in the Snowdonia National Park (Snowdon is the highest peak in England and Wales). The terrain is such that Air Force pilots (based on the island of Anglesey, off the coast of Wales) routinely fly over the area in preparation for going to places like Afghanistan. Scrolling through their photos I go on excursions through this beautiful area, see the clouds hovering around the mountain tops, watch the changing colors as Autumn replaces summer. I hear the roaring of the waterfalls filled by torrential downpours. But I also am provided with a commentary, the stories told alongside the pictures.
One recent blog cited an interesting definition for the word ‘saunter’. The writer said it was derived from the French for Holy Land, from pilgrims making their way a la Sainte Terre (forgive my bad French). The blogger was arguing that those who go on a ‘hike’ in these most glorious pieces of nature (and Wales does not have the monopoly on such places) may miss the point of the activity. When you hear the word ‘hike’ you see people on a mission, determined to arrive at their destination. I can even see them with back packs, bent forward, fulfilling their mission. The blogger instead recommended sauntering, taking time to appreciate each step, each vista, breathing in the beauty, exhaling out a prayer of appreciation.
Since I have a naturally suspicious nature, I had to see if this indeed were true! Did the word ‘saunter’ really have that derivation? And I discovered that there is some disagreement on that topic. There were old English words it could have come from, such as ‘santren’ (to muse); or even from an Anglo-Norman word ‘sauntrer’ meaning to take risks! (In fact the word adventure may come from that same root). But regardless of the true origin, saunter has a deliciously relaxed feeling, one that allows you to change directions and follow your dreams rather than sticking to a plan, an itinerary, a rigid timetable of goals and objectives.
My own trip up Snowdon was definitely done at a sauntering pace. Despite being 24 years younger, I was not in the best shape for a climb! When my brother-in-law and nephew took me up the easy way to Eriyri (the highest peak – the Eagle’s nest), I had not anticipated the uphill nature of the activity, and stopped every few hundred yards to soak in the scenery (i.e. catch my breath!) and take a photo or two! It was too cold, up in the clouds, to stroll in a leisurely way, however. And once we reached that glorious destination there was nothing to see but moisture! We were absolutely in the clouds, I remember seeing droplets clinging to my brother-in-law’s beard! But I had definitely completed a pilgrimage to that sacred spot.
This morning I woke up to a gift, and I must thank one of my classmates for this timely Facebook posting. My friend, an African American woman from Daytona Beach, Florida, described road trips she took back in the 70’s, all by herself. She drove cross country, finding the wide open spaces, the sacred places in this grand country, protected by her ancestors I am sure! She even slept in rest areas (again, protected by her ancestors!). Her saunter took her to places like Sedona, to Santa Fe, to Louisiana. Here are some of her words: “…joyous, serene, solitary…” She saw the Hale-Bopp Comet, and amazing, unforgettable rock formations. Her own personal pilgrimage.
This Friday morning I am celebrating the joy of words, words that can transport us, words that can inform us, words that can bring us peace. We are living in strange times, times where words are being used to divide us, to mobilize fear, and to cause pain. Let us choose our words wisely, and not feed in to the fearmongering and hostility. Let us saunter through these times, appreciating the beauty around us, confident that we will come through this together. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!