Saturday, June 15, 2013

on the power of stories and language

This morning I reaped the sweetness of the torture that was yesterday’s bedtime.  The children who refused and fought and struggled and waged war against the quiet oppression of sleep.  We’ve been fortunate with these two good sleepers, but last night was a dark cloud in that happy world and when we finally collapsed into bed around 10 pm, I’m certain their eyes were still open.  Alas, it consumed our entire Friday night, and sadly my husband who left bright and early for work would be very disgruntled to know that they slept in until 10:15.  Do not tell him.

And since I was taught early on to never wake sleeping baby, surely, I would have been a madwoman to disrupt their sleep and negate the hours of silence, coffee, and reading that I enjoyed. 

Currently I’m reading Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle, it’s a true treasure of words, a reflection of faith and art as the subtitle reads. And as you know, those subjects delight me and are so interwoven, that I can barely distinguish one from the other. Read it, I know you’ll love it.  (That’s what Kathleen Kelly would say.)

And on this quiet gift of a morning, I read this,

For language, like a story or a painting, is alive. Ultimately it will be the artists who will change the language (as Chaucer did, as Dante did, as Joyce did), not the committees. For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.

Language has always been my first love, and sometimes I neglect it, letting it sit quietly untouched and ignoring the invitation to stir around the words, mixing and sorting, to see what comes to life.  Language is communication and power and art; I could go on and on.  I may forget the online password to my cell-phone account every month, but there are stories that will stay with me forever.  I walk down the sidewalks of our neighborhood and all the knobby old trees make me certain that I might see Jem, Scout, and Boo Radley just around the corner.  And Atticus, who will always look like Gregory Peck, of course.   I can forever picture Laura Ingalls and her family sitting by the fire and then Ma blows out the lamp and the girls climb into the loft at the end of the day.  Or the twinkly-eyed professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe who listens to the children tell him of this fictional place called Narnia.  I will forever feel rage when someone mentions The Lord of the Flies or Ernest Hemingway, and will always question humanity when people say that the Great Gatsby is one of the greatest books of all time.

When we were young, my dad would write stories for us.  I can still see the typed pages of this wonderful tale about fascinating forest creatures and their adventures.  To be honest, I don’t remember anything about that story, but I will never forget how much we loved it, we’d all sit on the couch, keeping within our own cushion (rules), and he would read the newest addition to the story.  I fear those pages might be gone now, due to many moves, divorce, and the harsh reality of a few loose pages standing the trial of time and change. But their memory lives, as is the way of stories.

I majored in English in college.  When  I read L’Engle quoting Chekov, I remember when Dr. Cotton made us read his letters and asked, “Does it edify?”  In fact, I still hear, good writing is truth, beautiful, and edifying.   And I’ll never forget the time he called me into his office after I turned in a deplorable paper, deplorable because I had been highly distracted by other things, and by other things I mean a boy.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, this is terrible, this is not you. I will not accept this.  I’m giving you another chance, write something else. These are the things that are interlaced into my days.  A rich treasury of knowledge, instruction, and truth.  These are the things I want to carry and pass on.

I studied French for eight years.  I’ve yet to go, but my sister studied there for her last year of high school.  She wrote me letters that said, “the air always smells of the salty sea and freshly baked bread.”  And clearly, since that sounds horrifying, I no longer wanted to travel to France ever.  But one day, I will and I would be so disappointed with myself if I let that knowledge slip away into a forgotten place. So, I retrieved a few books from the attic today and have decided that I will not let that tongue disappear. 

This post has little reason, other than the way I was reminded about the power of language this morning.  And the way that important things can be traced from our early memories to today.  And I wonder, what about you?  What is it that has always fascinated you? How does it shape your days and your world? What stories have lived on in your heart?  I’d love to hear.


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