When we were children, we chanted, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Even then, we knew it wasn’t true. Words Matter. They become incarnated in emotion and deeds. Depending on context, tone, and intent (and sometimes even without intent), words can inflict pain upon another person. Our words can be used to incite ourselves and others to violent action.
And yet, words can also be used intentionally to clarify the truth or to create and weave new and more generous worlds for ourselves and for others.
We can refuse to speak in order to protect others. We can also refuse to speak to protect ourselves. As I have learned, words spoken or words refused –hidden and repressed– because of our fears can cripple us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
What happens to all our words, spoken and unspoken?
At a Journey Into Wholeness gathering about 20 years ago, I met the artist & poet Martha Grant. We talked about how we were hesitant to speak up in group discussions and about the ways in which our mothers, too, had hidden so many feelings and words silently within. When she got home from the gathering, Martha sent me this poem she’d written — and which is included here with her kind permission:
ALL THOSE WORDS IN HER by Martha Grant What if she died with all those words in her? How would we know who she was if she hadn't told us? We would gather at her gravesite and speculate, arguing among ourselves over who knew her best, and in which milieu, and find discrepancies, while back at the funeral home an embalmer would be wringing his hands over what to do with all these words that had come flooding from her body when he'd cut into her. All his years of embalming school hadn't prepared him for this. He scooped them into wastebaskets and file drawers, old lunch bags, any receptacle he could grab, and still they kept coming, while he ran to the back door and called in the homeless from the streets, those who'd lost their own voices, and passed words among them like doling our Christmas turkeys, for which the silent ones were just as grateful. Funny, her drivers license hadn't listed her as an organ donor.
What do you choose to do with your own words?