I love words. I love stories.
I love words and stories from all traditions. I love the power that words have, from all the great religions, to comfort and generate love and healing in those who are suffering.
As a child, I listened to my grandparents tell stories. I listened my parents, aunts and uncles, and elder members of the church tell lots of stories. All these stories, these words, gave color and juice to living through good and bad times. Every story— no matter the theme — vibrated with power, providing a clear vision of a better future.
My parents had specific views about words. If we used the right words, we would be protected in society. That might have been true for adults, but, er, not so much for children. My mother, a teacher, taught us precision with our words. It was “urinate,” not “pee.” When we were angry or frustrated, Mom insisted on “golly gum drops” instead of the curses that many of my classmates used. Needless to say, this made us kids the perfect targets for children with—let’s say— issues.
It was drilled into us that “bad words” were a sign of ignorance. Daddy initiated political discussions around the dinner table, and we talked about Dr. King’s work and the importance of justice, fairness, and equal opportunity for all. In spite of the fact that we lived with the trauma of poverty, segregation, and family dysfunction, I took his words to heart.
As I grew I learned, through the lens and context of race in America, that words could hurt and, sadly, but most significantly, wound the soul. Being “black” was more than the color of ink; it could determine the path and expectations of a person’s entire life. Designations of “colored” and “white” were weapons of white supremacy used to deny entire racial and ethnic groups — African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Asians — from living as free human beings.
But I also learned, through volunteering and employment service, that words generate joy, hunger for a better life, belief in a brighter day, and a taste for the goodness in life. Through meeting, literally, thousands of people from all races and walks of life, I learned that words heal the heart, and it’s that healing, that love in words, that I try to bring to my stories.
No, I don’t always meet my lofty intention. Politics, bigotry, ignorance, and plain old stupidity can still get a good rise out of me. Yet, I keep writing because, as a friend recently said, “the love and energy of life are carried in the words.” Words are alive, and how we use language matters.
I know this from experience. Words have color. Vision.
And extraordinary Power.