The power of words…

During the month of November, I am going to try to write every day in honor of National Novel Writing Month (I will write two posts today to compensate for missing yesterday).  Although I have not officially joined ‘nanowrimo’ this year (because my 13th grandchild is scheduled to come in 20 days and I want to be ready, willing and able to help), I love what it stands for.  Their mission statement: “National Novel Writing Monday believes in the transformational power of creativity.  We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds–on and off the page,” speaks to my soul.

The written word holds so much power in all of its numerous capacities; not just for me, but for nearly every person alive.  Without it we would have no books, neither for learning nor pleasure; we would have no love letters, a true treasure to the heart; we would have no contracts, for cars or houses or employment; we would have no instructions (if you’ve ever tried to read IKEA picture directions, you know how important that one is); no bibles…the list is endless.

Recently, I have realized the absolute significance of even one written word, or the absence of one, or how something you were trying to say can be completely misconstrued  if your words aren’t laid out properly.  It is really a little bit frightening, how one tiny mistake can change something so completely.

You see, I have a group of friends that I treasure.  With all of my baggage, I avoided close, long term relationships for about 25 years of my life.  I know that sounds extreme, and I’m not saying I didn’t have friends during that time, but I didn’t have friends who knew my heart—what was inside.

Early in life, I learned that certain people didn’t rub elbows with my kind of people.  I had nine brothers and sisters, seven of them older than me, and most local people knew my family.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was asked “aren’t you one of those Hamburg kids?”  Believe me, it wasn’t asked with interest, but rather with a certain degree of distain.  I didn’t know much about the older siblings (many of them were out of the house when I was a toddler), but I did know that my brother John had created a bit of a name for himself–one that I didn’t want attached to me too.  Also, we were dirt poor–and when people see a poor family with a lot of kids, they often pass judgement as if to say “how stupid can you be?”  For the record, my parents weren’t stupid–they were Catholic, and the church didn’t say “only have what you can afford.”

So, I learned early on to create an image people would approve of.  I read voraciously, learning everything I could so that I could personify the kind of person I yearned to be.  I taught myself to draw and sew.  I would walk through department stores and simply sketch the outfits I saw.  Then, I would use whatever fabrics I had available to me and create a similar style.  I honestly thought I was doing a pretty good job of pulling it off, until one day in high school, I walked up to a group of girls (who I thought were my friends) and they all laughed.  I said “what’s so funny?” to the one girl  who I thought was my best friend.  She said, “we were taking bets on what you would wear today—I win.”

If you can imagine your teenaged self in that situation, you will know the depth of shame and humiliation I felt.  From that moment, I built an armor around myself that was virtually bulletproof.  If my very best friend would mock me, the one who I shared all of my innermost thoughts and insecurities with, then nobody could be trusted.  I realize now that she was just an insecure kid too–trying to sound cool, not ruin my life. Nonetheless, the first chance I got, I left my home state and moved to California where everyone gets to reinvent themselves  with no questions asked 🙂

It wasn’t until I faced a serious family crisis that I took the plunge and truly confided in a friend again.  She was the first person since I was a teenager who I trusted with my heart.  She is the one who I have now offended with my selection of words.

I fear that my words have possibly ended this friendship–my longest, close friendship– and that feeling reminds me of a divorce.  It hurts terribly.  Yet, when I reexamine what I wrote, I’m not certain how I could have said it better.  I was trying to bring light to a repeated behavior in an effort to preserve, not destroy, our friendship.

I have been reading through some quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson for inspiration and I came upon one that really struck me.

“Friendship is like the immortality of the soul; it is too good to be believed.  When friendships are real, they are not glass threads or frost work, but the solidest things we can know.”

Are these words true?  Would my friendship withstand a disagreement if it were real?  Even though we rarely got together or communicated (which is not uncommon for women of our age), I now feel the loss intensely.

If I could go back a month in time…how often have you felt that?

I guess the truth is this; even when we mean no harm, we may harm.  We can only say things with love, but we cannot make them be accepted with love.

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