I love words. They are not perfect, because they aren’t really the things themselves: the word “chicken” is not a chicken, it is just some scribbled lines on paper. The word “angry” is not an emotion, it is just a symbol for the feeling. The word “fragrant” is not the actual smell of gardenias, it is just one of the infinite arrangements of the english alphabet. Sometimes words come pretty close to the original thought or feeling: The child’s barn-red wooden chair sat in the corner of the playroom. Here we imagine the chair (Did you see it as a straight-legged chair or a rocking chair?), the child (was it a boy or a girl? What color was his hair? What color was her dress? Was he set in modern time or at the turn of the century?), and the play room (neat and tidy or a mess of books and blocks?). Words can get close to the image if you keep pressing in and asking questions.
Sometimes words fail completely: The feeling that comes after a baby is born. I always say it is the best feeling in the whole world(!). That it is such a relief(!). That it is so happy(!). These words are so commonplace. The feeling is so much deeper than any word in any vocabulary. It is a feeling that is just etched into our very souls in some language that maybe we will one day learn after we die and enter into eternity…
Words aren’t perfect, but I love them anyway.
Sometimes I feel like my mind is a big pond on a humid day in mid-July, and all of my thoughts are swarming around in my head like mosquitos. Most of the time, I just try not to get too close to the water, because I know they will try to eat me up. But then one day, I get fed up with the fog, and I decide to do something about it. I start to write. And writing out my thoughts is like clearing the pond. One by one, I name the thoughts–smacking each pesky bug by assigning it a word, forcing the words to line up into sentences, and line after line, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, the fog clears and I am left with a clear, clean pond. And because it is so hot, and all that work has made me so thirsty, I dip my face in and take a drink. And because the water that drips down my face is so cold and clear, I just jump right in, clothes and all.
I love words.
I have come to really value friendships where words are used in a meaningful way. I do get tired of going through life retelling the same answers to the same questions. There is the short version to “How are you?”: “Fine, thank you.” There is the medium version: “We’re going good. Life is full and busy and pretty chaotic sometimes, but we are happy. We are just trying to keep it all together.” There is the long version: “I don’t know. We are in major transition right now, just trying to figure out what we are supposed to be doing. We just finished our cd last November, which was this major 3-year project, and we aren’t sure what we are supposed to be doing right now. We are just trying to hear from the Lord and be ready when he shows us the next step, etc., etc.”
But there are these really wonderful times when people come into your life and sweep you up into living conversation. The kind that takes you to places you haven’t been in words before. They give you whole new metaphors that can carry you through difficult seasons of your life. And you find yourself standing in the kitchen with them, saying and hearing new things–revelation after revelation, really heart to heart–instead of reciting the same answers to the same questions. You leave feeling like you know someone and that someone knows you. And that is such a relief.
Today I visited with a friend. She and I have a lot in common. We both have four young children. We both live in 2-bedroom houses. We both are in the beginning years of homeschooling. We both love to bake. We love literature. We love to talk. The kids and I pulled up in our van, and were immediately welcomed in by the children. We walked in to the smell of fresh bread baking. The kids started to play with all the toys in the house, piling up the dress-up clothes to try them on, and Susan and I jumped right into this river of conversation that was so clean and clear and fresh. Every once in a while a big fish would swim by and surprise us both. We knew they were there, but in our crazy day to day lives, we aren’t accustomed to standing still long enough to see what is really under the surface of the water. It was wonderful to be part of this exchange.
We talked all morning, while Susan pulled rising bread off the hearth, carefully laid out strips of peppery bacon in the pan, chopped avocados and tomatoes, stirred spring basil into mayonnaise, poured freshly roasted coffee, ground little kernels of popcorn into powder which she sprinkled in the bread pan, lovingly tended to interruptions of kids too young to tie their own dress-ups, a constant alternation between putting things in the oven and pulling them out. And all the while, we are just talking nonstop. For about 3 hours. And when we leave, I feel like I could have stayed all day. Because there are so many words in the queue that want to get out. And because in life, you just don’t have that many people with words that can take you so far downstream and show you riverbanks in your mind that you didn’t even know existed. There are huge fields where questions rise up like silent waving grasses. There are howling forests thick with foreboding trees. There are meadows of poppies in every color. You can find these places and name them and begin to understand them if you have a friend that will walk along beside you and help you find the way.
Mackenzie Chester is a wife, mother of four, writer, and musician. She and Randy, her husband, have just released a new cd called Home, which was recorded over the last three years in their living room. Learn more about their lives and music on their website www.thejosephineknot.com.