“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” ~ Ezra Pound.
The first time I heard the word ‘paradigm’ used in a sentence, I was mad that I didn’t know what it meant. The truth is I didn’t much care for the person who said it, and I was mad that she knew it and I didn’t. But perhaps that was a good thing, because it made me go home and look it up. Since that day around 30 years ago, I have heard it thrown around so much it has almost lost its meaning. But the order to ‘go look it up’ was a common response from my father when I was growing up.
When you read a lot as a child, you often come across words that you don’t look up, but think that you know what they mean because of the context. I remember when I was a teenager, a teacher pulled me aside about my homework. We were to imagine a situation that was so upsetting to us that we had to write a letter of complaint. The situation that I wrote about was my imaginary noisy neighbor who held a very loud party. I wrote that it sounded as if there was an orgy going on. To me (since I had not looked it up) I thought the word meant a very loud gathering of people. The teacher (I think her name was Mrs. Bruton) carefully explained that the word meant a lot more than just noise was going on, and I might offend people very much by using the word. I think I was still confused.
The ability to create language is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Of course, we have yet to completely decipher the ways that many creatures ‘talk’ to each other: dolphins are one great example. Then there are the ways that jungle animals and birds can communicate danger to the rest of their clan. But it was humans that decided to ‘name’ things, and with the names came meaning. What is amazing is that even with all these words, all this language that we have developed, we can still have such difficulty understanding each other.
My mother had a tendency to say things that were taken the wrong way. She may have been too straight spoken, a little too harsh in her observations. It got worse as she got older, especially as her hearing diminished. You could never be sure what observation she would share about someone in their presence, loud enough to be overheard. She was aware that she could offend, and collected sayings which she placed around her desk on snippets of paper, reminders to ‘…try a little harder, be a little kinder…’ Another of her favorites was al quote by Alan Greenspan: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
The word ‘meaning’ is itself full of nuance. There was a comedian who once mused out loud about the meaning of life as he stared out at the night sky, but finally decided it had nothing to do with him and went to bed. It can be overwhelming when we try to understand things that happen around us, try to read meaning into the random acts of disruption and violence. Someone noted the other day that if we were watching a movie about a world-wide pandemic during which there were multiple mass shootings, and volcanic eruptions, we would dismiss the movie as being too far-fetched!
Perhaps it is easier to imbue moments with meaning, rather than to trying to make sense of events. The concept of acting with intention is to purposefully make moments meaningful rather than studying them after the fact. That puts us back in control instead of waiting for life to happen to us. Once you decide to see everyday activities as profoundly meaningful, your life takes on a new energy.
I remember attending a seminar many years ago about death and dying. The speaker had given us an exercise: we had to write our own obituary. How did we want to be remembered? What did we hope to leave behind? What would be the highlights of our life? Once written, we were empowered to go and live that memorable life! But she also pointed out that life can be enjoyed in its quiet moments, as well as the huge celebrations. The act of preparing a meal can become a relished ritual, such as appreciating the colors and textures of the ingredients of a salad. While adding spices and herbs to a pot you can smell the aromas and add a pinch of love for the people who are about to eat it (even if it is for yourself!). When you pay attention to these simple acts, the mundane becomes momentous. You add meaning to your day.
I am not sure if it was Johnny Nash who wrote the line ‘there are more questions than answers’. He was the African American singer who was given credit for introducing reggae music to the US before Bob Marley, and he sang a lot of songs written by the Wailers, and by Jimmy Cliff, so these may not have been his words. But song continues ‘…and the more I find out, the less I know…’ which is both humbling and accurate! Hopefully we will still be asking questions until the day we die!
On this Friday morning, I hope you still run across words that you don’t know, and are inspired to look them up! May you pause before you speak to be sure that what you say is what you mean! Perhaps the more important thing to ask yourself is, do I need to say this? Is it kind? Is it said with love? For perhaps the answer to all of these questions is love.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!