Winter finally arrived in our desert valley the other day, bringing cold and wind and rain and a crispness in the mornings that has been uncommon in our easy-bake-oven existence here and about. The day’s early sky was still rippled with clouds of gray and white amid the blue background and aimless sun. When I dropped-off my little one at school, the teachers stood around shivering and smiling and talking about the upcoming holidays and mid-word stopped to blow a whistle to tell the kids to get off the ball-field…you know better than that…the grass was covered in frost and the dirt of the infield was darker with a dew that didn’t freeze. It was the first morning of the year when there was real frost on my windshield that I had to scrape off…so unusual…bordering on strange, for here anyway. My little one commented that the ground would be covered with snow if we were up in Utah…a subject of some contention in the household and family of late…to go or not to go…to be or not to be here or there…to throw caution to the proverbial wind and step out on another risk…a risk-taking in a risky time…but we’re not going…we’re here…and another Christmas season is upon us already. It seems that the kids just started school a little while ago and it’s back again. The lights are up throughout the neighborhoods and the stores are crammed with people who are usually doing other things when I happen to frequent the place…more cars in the parking lot, more cashiers at their stands, more people in the aisles, and more stuff and stuff in the air. I put-up our tree that afternoon and got-out the Christmas CDs and still had them turning on the stereo when I wrote this…Jim Brickman, Josh Groban, and three others making the rounds over and again, shedding their spirit and making me wonder again at this person Jesus who is said to have been born in a manger and all of the rest of it. I think this might have been my favorite time of the year when I was a Christian, a believer, a person of eternal hope and non-thought…someone treading in the footsteps laid ahead for me…pulled along by the ring in the nose…non-thought…anyway, I’m not going down that pathway right now, just wanted to say that if I were still a Christian, I would love the words of the music and the thoughts of the season. As it is, I listen to mostly instrumental music and hear only the tunes while the words echo on their own in my mind….resounding symbols of a previous life. It would be so nice to be able to believe that it was all true because it sounds so beautiful in this one month of the year…so comforting, reassuring, or something…but empty…and even sad…sad at the loss of that wrongly-conceived comfort, and sad with memories of being welfare-poor when our kids were little and not being able to provide them with the tangible Christmas gifts that we thought we should be able to provide…and sad with the memories of being a child and feeling that I didn’t deserve the presents…I wondered on several occasions how I could possibly have anything under the tree, thinking the gifts were supposed to be a representation of the love that was being rewarded in substance for my behavior during the rest of the year…and I knew that I had gotten my ass beaten several times, too many times, innumerable times for shit I did wrong and for lies that I told so that I might avoid the ass-beating…and how could they then give me presents for Christmas…and the gall they had that one year to give me the presents I had found while snooping through my father’s dresser drawers and stealing some of his Lifesavers…he had said he was throwing everything away…and he did throw away most of my toys and all the posters and things I had on my walls and on the top of my dresser…all my special things, trophies, souvenirs, mementoes…every damn thing…the things that comforted me when I was in my room and away from him…and I had discovered a poster of a horse in his drawer…and it was under the tree…like I wasn’t going to remember the yelling, cursing, hateful brown eyes glaring, piercing, stabbing into my soul whenever I saw the poster? Merry fucking Christmas…. And it’s always sad in spite of the good times with all the kids over and the tons of presents for everyone…it just is…too many memories that reach beyond the present and cannot be exorcised even with the passing of time…the shit is still in there with painful gashes that are trying to heal…and making tears run with sad joy at remembering my Thanksgiving morning when my littlest one greeted me first thing with “Happy Thanksgiving, Papa.” He calls me Papa when he’s being tender…when he’s being precious, gentle, loving…. “Papa.” I never had a word like that for my father…and my heart is touched.
Swirling beneath the surface or deeply embedded within the spoken word is yet another meaning, an additional understanding or interpretation that is dependent upon the receiver’s frame of mind or point of reference in accepting that word. The paths that the person has traveled in his life will have an impact on the message’s content as well. Often, trusting that the speaker has the same state of mind or set of references that he does, the receiver will take the word for its surface value, not thinking to look into the current that carried the speaker into giving it…or not.
Those additional meanings could also exist because those spoken words were wrought in deception as a ruse, to mislead, to cover wrong-doings and hidden or veiled thoughts. They were presented to protect others or the self or bring unjust scrutiny where it is not needed, diverting inspection from where it is due. Gossip, lies, and rumors bred to undermine, to make others feel secure in their own estimation…to shake foundations and crumble established ways of thinking, perceptions, and values. Visible or imagined circumstances are mated with ill-conceived thoughts and a new ‘truth’ is born. It breathes with a life of its own, spread and passed-along as righteousness…contextual and circumstantial truths that reek in filth and deception until they are discovered and ripped apart with the knife of examination, eviscerated under the light of explanation and detail…but the damage is still done, the seed was planted and doubt has grown, sprouted and thriving in another life with its germinal droppings carried by the wind of conversation and whispered in hushed tones of ‘Have you heard?’
How many of our lives’ courses have been steered aside by a single phrase or the circumstantial pairing of words? What lashes across the back have been felt because of either ill-spoken words or ones that were found to be false? What taste of blood was brought to mouth because of an offense, a broken bone or ringing of ears caused by a violence that spews from hands evil with wrongdoing; might over weakness, forcefulness over fearfulness; the victims’ souls splayed open by the sharp tongue. How many lives and reputations in past and present have been sullied by murmured falsehoods and contrived deeds?
But words also nurture and bind and comfort and heal and uplift and encourage and inspire and lead many from sickness to health and from self-doubt to greatness and success…love-spoken words can be salves that heal our wounds and reveal truths that wash-away the scourge and disease of the bitter tongue…that fortify, that vanquish evil and doubt and failure…and stir to a greatness unimagined. And sometimes, too, these soothing and healing and uplifting and inspiring words are lies bound in sweet hope that they will be believed and acted-upon and taken to magnificent ends…causing the receiver to believe the words and dig into themselves to make them true because the speaker said they were true so they must be true and that makes them become true…and that lie has become truth…and then.
And other times the utterances become opiates that relax our diligence and dull our senses, calmly deceiving and betraying us with Delilah’s alluring promises before robbing us of our strength or resolve, seducing us, leading us into temptation and delivering us unto evil where we ransom our souls and happiness and futures and eternities for ideas and notions and feelings and…in other times and circumstances we escape with and through them, these words, into our fantasies and beliefs, conjuring imaginings and hopes, falling prey to our lusts and desires…whispered in sinful darkness they feed our longings…and we covet what we have not…we resolve to tell stories of deeds done and then, twisted mysteries that complicate and turn like worms in our guts when trying to remember what happened or not as we weave that tangled web. Their partial truths and half-lies stringing us along and telling us in bits what we need to know…in power and ruse against us, controlling and subordinating and enslaving or making us free, causing us to rise indifferent to blood and ties.
Skillfully spoken with temper and might, those spoken symbols can cause us to rise-up in defiance against our natural selves and believe ghastly things about others, to strike-out with deadly consequence or they can inspire us to love and nurture others at the cost of our own lives, can lead us to unbelievable heights and lengths to sacrifice ourselves and others for a cause, sometimes just and sometimes not and so…and someone said that someone said that He said “I am that I am.”
Between friends they are casual, words of comfort and ease, gentle conversation about anything or nothing, rambling and disjointed wonderings and plans and hopes and disappointments and promises to do better and live stronger and try instead of not…and they know the sacred and the secret, the hallowed and irreverent…jingling jangling juggling jumbling jabbering and tossing about in the mixing of anything and nothing and sometimes the learned stumble for a lack of the right one and the not-so-learned has it in picture form and simple and more beautiful and from the earth or the tugging inside the heart and in the hum of nature and in the tick and tock of the silent passing on the pendulum’s path and so…to speak in word form.
What aspect of our being hasn’t been touched by the spoken word? Is there a single step in this labyrinthine effort that is a stranger to the audible thoughts and contrivances of verbal communication? I dare to offer that near every color of life’s prism has been and is painted by and with every manner of uttering by the human tongue – those simple expulsions of breath, twisted and rolled, compressed and urged through the vocal cords, throat, teeth, and lips to become the shouts and screams and soothing whispers and encouragements or curses that propel us through our collective existence.