Not only was my childhood black and white, words were etched in stone, authorized, memorized, never trivialized. We didn’t say the word “dang” because that was one slip away from “damn.” Heck was altogether too close to hell. Never would we allow our lips to carry the curse of a soul being thrown into the Fiery Lake of eternity. Neither would we express anger because it was reckless and sinful, dangerous – to rant was sin. Loss of control – to any degree (even a toe tapping) – was reason to worry.
No wonder no one openly held claim to their love of reading in my family. One’s imagination is set free. The world opens. How does one fit these worlds together? How does my mother make sense of her dogma? And to think that she had a phase in her youth of favoring Edgar Allen Poe.
It freaked everybody out, this power of words. We begged God to guard our lips. Put the coal to our lips. Purify us. We repented of any gossip or ill-fated speech that slipped past the gate of our mouths.
Words were weighty and very serious. I still believe this. They were not to be experimented with. I no longer believe this. My mother, a poet who loved the dictionary most of all, and the cracking open of words, surely paid a high price for such hard-lined beliefs. And I do too.
I did not even begin to perceive of the store houses of words, bushels and bushels available until years after I’d left university. Neither did I know we can dance in them like grapes, stomping them into wine. Feeling the skins slip of the soft flesh, revel in the squish between our toes and juice splashing up on our bare legs, our skirts held high.
Our world is knee deep, stained by words and yet we are no longer artisans of prose. Literary – what does the word mean? Well-placed quotes, intelligent, use of literary devices, vivid imagination…? I push back worry that it’s too late for me. But I won’t succumb. I want to write beautifully. May it never be said that I filled pages with dross or straw—meaningless noise and rhetoric. I want to die a lyricist.
We can try different words, weigh them, ask what if, mash unlikely combinations together and sing, whisper, yell, repeat, chant…but I am haunted with the question: can we do so without God being offended, without hurting or harming and without disrespect? Sarcasm is merely a device. Can the sacred be lost?
On the page, we are free at last to experiment to speak and listen without censoring and editing every thought and word before it has a chance to breathe or come into existence. I can be a storyteller for the sake of engaging and exploring truth and sometimes just for pure ecstasy, or just for the hell of it. For the sheer joy of not having to debate or defend a position, without having to test or scrutinize or take back, hold back. I can try thoughts on, play dress up and look from different angles.
* * *
I am mother to the quietest girl in her class. And what does Cierra pursue? International communication and diplomacy. Having received masters level degrees in both, she insists on using a global voice in several languages. Cierra Nicole is thoughtful and will only speak when she has something to say. Most importantly, she brings peace and healing and empowerment to the world.
Like my mother, Cierra too is a poet. Free from my old black and white theology, she is brilliant in mixing an inbuilt sense of rhythm, timing, cadence, and command of the language. After teaching some 40 people groups around the world, she effortlessly communicates with or without words, hilariously bringing contrast between meaning and context. She can be comedically irreverent without being unkind. Reading her words is like sipping fine wine.