I was raised within the confines of a religion that believed in the power of words. John 1:1 stuck in my brain with the ka-thunking rhythm of a train on tracks. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. I was given to understand that, before all else, there existed language, and language was the font of all things. Words made the world.
When I was a child and first began putting sentences together in poems and stories, words possessed a magic that awed me. Thoughts that had previously wandered were suddenly firm and ripe when hung on the scaffolding of verbs and nouns. They became things. They became things that could change me.
It was a frightening realization at 13 when it occurred to me that I was not only the author of collections of words, but also the author of my own life. Paper, the supposedly safe and secret buffer between me and the world, was not the middleman I had assumed it was. Paper gave flesh not just to the words but to the ideas behind them, and the ponderous responsibility of that power terrified me.
It would be years before I could take a more lighthearted approach to writing again, and those intervening years were filled with reams of poems and journal entries meant to convey so much meaning and depth. There was gravity in every small thing. Now, they seem laughable in their earnestness, but, then, words were scissors that could cut through the very fabric of space and time.
Our ability to create and use language has built religions and countries and communities. They are the beginnings of buildings and travel and songs sung together. We make vows that bind us together and issue malice that tears us apart. We talk about the pieces of our past that shape us, share stories about our days, and make plans for the future.
I say I love you to a person for the first time, and the pair of us are remodelled with the shape of our shared knowledge. When I was a little girl, people told me that I was good and smart, and I was good and smart. Placebos work as well and sometimes better than the pharmaceuticals they mock, simply by the power of suggestion.
Even when I feel that I have nothing else, there are still these words, these potent magic beans that sow the world around us, ka-thunking with the rhythm of a train on tracks, beating out the universe.
Sometimes I believe that words are the meat of every matter.
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