I have always been fascinated by a good writer’s process. Do they wrangle words from thin air, piecing them together in an ideal symmetry. Or do they take a formless lump of confusion and simply clarify? Either way, a writer possesses the most formidable weapon on earth. Dynamic. Potent. Irrevocable. And not everyone should hold a pen.
As a child, I remember sitting in the backyard of Helen Keller’s Alabama home, Ivy Green. A Sunday school field trip took me to an afternoon performance of The Miracle Worker by William Gibson. I was transfixed. Anne Sullivan turned on the light in Helen’s darkness with language. And in an instant, the “no world” of Helen’s childhood vanished. One line from that play has stayed with me all these years: “Words, why, you can see five thousand years back in the light of words, everything we feel, think, know–and share, in words, so not a soul is in darkness, or done with, even in the grave.”
Language is the original institutional memory. Words simmer in our consciousness long after we have shared them. They wreck us with their virility. They can lift us to unattainable heights, yet they can also drive us deep within ourselves to discover why we care so much. They linger. And oftentimes we welcome their company, but sometimes they haunt us.
So as I scroll along culture’s newsfeed, I find something curious. We have never lived in a time that coupled such overt sensitivity with such a lack of regard for the impact of words. We pride ourselves with our right to freedom of speech on the one hand and on the other, feign gross insult at every turn. We are offended easily and often. Yet we can’t shut up. How manic is that?
This next week is a big one for our nation. The conclusion of one of the most contentious, exhausting seasons that I can remember. My prayer is more than just politically motivated. We must remember that how we characterize the outcome of this election will hold sway, not just for the day or the week, but forever. Some of you may have already seen relationships damaged or ended by disagreement over a person or a policy. Maybe your garden needed pruning, and you are ultimately better off with an emotional boundary in place. However, I know that we have all been handed an arsenal and every time we touch the keyboard, we pull the pin on a potential grenade. When we sit around the dinner table or talk on our phones, our children are listening. Most significantly, when those that follow us through the ages of time find themselves facing a challenge and look back for solace or wisdom, they will read how we handled ours. And what then will our words reveal about the content of our character?