The first essay I wrote for a publication assigned a character limit of 1,400, equating to about 300 words – a little under a page. 300 words seem doable until I sit down and attempt to commit 300 words to paper. Every single time I stare at a blank page, even just three words are painful; the idea of penning 297 more, paralyzes. I struggle to make sense of the ideas that have rattled in my mind for weeks. When I finally surrender and let the words tumble out, I’m exhausted. A little under a page is now pages and paring down to 300 seems impossible. Round and round I go, eliminating extra “the’s” and “that’s” while I try to boil down thoughts into cohesive ideas. I have since written 95 essays for that publication, committing over 130,000 characters to paper.
Words, whether tens of thousands, hundreds or just three strung together are important. But I knew that before I committed to writing for public consumption. My grandmother etched this truth into my heart a lifetime ago.
It had been a dark night. My very worth had been attacked. Words of disappointment wreaked havoc on my heart. In the heat of battle glass shattered, tires screeched on pavement, and I was left wondering how my life had arrived at that moment. In the chaos, she had stood in the distance, leaning up against my brave one’s nursery door, quietly watching the scene unfold. The following morning, as the sun’s rays broke through the night sky, my grandmother looked at me adamant and sad, knowing full well she could not undo what had happened or mute the words that had fed my deepest insecurity. Holding my sleeping newborn, her eyes pooled, “Oh my merry sunshine, I’m sorry. I wish I could take back what was said to you.” She did not shift her gaze and after a long period of quiet, took a deep breath and whispered, “Let this be a lesson, words can never be taken back.”
Words – they matter. They convict and crush, deflate and ignite. They have power to linger for years or haunt a lifetime. Words give substance to what can be imagined or shatter a dream. I think we all know the power of words. If we didn’t, why would we pause before saying what we know important? Why read and re-read the words that fill the text box before pushing the little arrow? I believe humanity knows once committed to sound or delivered into the ethos, words cannot be pulled back. I believe the pause before the uttering and pressing is a heart pushing into a world yearning for tenderness.
Just as words have the potential to crush, they can also break through with a love that is life giving and game changing. Words confirm your heart is still beating and prove it can, in fact, hurt to smile. Oh, I am sure you can remember the exact words that set your heart on fire, lifted your soul to new heights or simply caused you to sigh. Maybe that is why when my brave one needs reminding of his strength and my love, words are tattooed in dry erase across his bathroom mirror. And maybe that is why I have a desk drawer filled with notecards that I pen in the early morning hours and why, before Freddy sets out each morning, my love is not left assumed.
When my babies were babies, I told them more times than I could count and in more ways I can remember, that I loved them. When they started school, it just seemed right to scribble what I hoped they knew in their very core on little paper scraps and post-it notes. I’d tuck a love note into their lunch box, so it was the first thing they saw when they sat down for lunch. After reading each one, Catherine slipped it into the lunch box’s front pocket. By the last day of school, she had curated a collection of peanut butter smeared accolades and assurances.
The note I wrote to Catherine December 14, 2012 read “TGIF! I (Heart) U” It had been a long week and we had seemingly made it. The small post-it note was gently placed on the top of her belongings in the box labeled Catherine Hubbard 1 of 2. It was the first thing I read when I opened the box.
Words – they matter.