“Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”–Samuel Johnson
Many of my recollections are beginning to take on a dream-like quality, such as the time I was home with Madelyn, our daughter, who was a toddler at the time. Maddie was sick with a virus. Continuously, I trotted Maddie to the bathroom, so she could throw up or upstairs to change her diaper. It seemed impossible that a human so small could continuously produce so much vomit and repeatedly fill diapers.
Things had calmed momentarily, and we were cuddled up together on the couch, when I could feel her stomach begin its heavings. On instinct, I began my rapid try-not-to-jar-her trot, but still boot-scoot-hurry to the bathroom, so Maddie could once more throw up. Unfortunately, I could tell there was no stopping the oncoming rush of fluid. I halted at the kitchen sink, the closest receptacle I could think of, and held her tiny, shaking body there, as she retched into the sink. (Not the most sanitary choice, I know, but I chalk it up to sleep deprivation.)
That’s when I felt the primal niggle. My brain had noticed something important. Glancing out the kitchen window, I saw flames spewing forth from the roof of our neighbor’s home. Orange, red, blue, and yellow flames licked hungrily at the sky. Black ashes rimmed with orange and red sparks soared toward our house. I am sure if this had been a movie, the camera would have zoomed in on my widening eyes as the recognition of what was happening began to sink in.
Fortunately, our neighbor’s were not harmed, their house, though damaged, was repairable, and our house was fine. The sparks fell silently like dark, angry snowflakes, and without fuel, their brightly burning edges dwindled on the gray concrete on our driveway.
As a teenage girl, I loved the song, “Pass It On.”
“It only takes a spark/ to get a fire going/ and soon all those around/ can warm up to its glowing/That’s how it is with God’s love . . .you want to pass it on.”–Kurt Kaiser
Words are sparks. Tiny, miniscule notations of black and white either written or unleashed as phonemes by the tongue, teeth, and lips of a speaker. Eyes or ears take in the message. Brain receives the message, attaches it to the current mental scaffolding of the reader or listener, and the process of comprehension and interpretation begins. Input, analysis, and potentially, output. Information computed, more sparks formed, knowledge is available to pass on.
Words can be exhilarating. Finding just the right words increases one’s ability to express a more precise and exact message. Communication, I would argue, can be down right intoxicating. Babies can spend countless moments babbling for pure pleasure. Once babies grasp a few words, however, and realize that those few intonations can command the attention of another human, they want more. Like a fire blazing in the hearth, the flames of linguistic command demand more fuel in their desire to communicate and exert some measure of control.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck. The site itself was closed, but as I stood along the old homestead’s fence line, I imagined Pearl as a baby within those walls. As I understand it, Buck and her family lived in that home for only a few months. Nonetheless, my inner narrator could envision her mom singing to her as diapers were changed, and I could hear the voices of both parents talking to baby Pearl throughout the day. Her parents could not have known that one day Pearl would become a prolific writer, winning both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize for the way her writing promoted empathy, compassion, and understanding. They were simply passing on to their daughter the power of communication, and through their ultimate missionary work, modeling beneficial ways words can be used.
Like the floating sparks of the long ago house fire, ashes can soar fiery red, greedily seeking fuel for which to consume, or they can burn down into a pile of harmless ash. In fact, an accumulation of ash, such as that left over from burning wood in a hearth, can be used as fertilizer for plants as it is full of lime, potassium, and other trace minerals that promote plant production. Likewise is the potential for the messages we speak and write–fuel for the fire or fertilizer for nourishment.
Tweet. News. Memo. Email. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Tik Tok. Rumors. Innuendo. Gossip. Reporting. Posting. Blog. Website. Novel. Novella. Fiction. Nonfiction. The list goes on. Big words. Little words. Powerful words. Meaningless words. Hurtful. Helpful. Salacious. Compassionate. Implication. Understanding. There is no end in the ways in which words can be conveyed.
“All of us contain a divine, expressive spark, a creative candle intended to light our path and that of our fellows.”–Julia Cameron
It’s not only the words, but the intent behind those words that has power. The heart of the message; the heart of the speaker; the heart of the writer; the heart of the listener. We were all Divinely created from a Source I still struggle to understand; but I can tell you this, Dear Reader. The more I understand about the amazing, resilient human body and its magnificent potentiality, the more I believe, with all my heart, that we were each lovingly created for a Divinely designed purpose. Those purposes are unique as each individual, but all of us have the same potential as Pearl S. Buck. It all comes down to our hearts.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.–James 3:17-18
While we may not all possess the ability to win prizes as Buck once did, we can all pray and focus on increasing what Christians call, the fruits of the spirit, that all major religions likewise focus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With these as kindling within the heart, we can be lit from within. Our words, both written and spoken, can then be used to either light the way for others, warming them with the glow of thoughtfulness, or used as a tool for harm–burning bridges that otherwise could have been crossed through effective and empathetic communication.
I am reminded of the 15 or so years in which I taught Kindergarten aged students. At the time, the practice was for the parents of soon-to-be-entering-school kindergartners to attend an orientation meeting. During this meeting, each Kindergarten educator discussed with parents the classroom policies and procedures and addressed any concerns shared by parents. At some point during this meeting, we talked with the parents about the importance of their word choice and attitude towards beginning school.
We explained the power of possessing a positive, enthusiastic disposition towards this major childhood milestone by displaying an aren’t-you-a-big-kid-now attitude, rather than sharing sad tales of I-can’t-believe-my-baby-is-going-to-leave-me. Parents were reminded that their child tended to mimic the parents’ perspective. As with most forms of communication, it is not only the word choice that creates influence, but also the intent behind those words that is often passed on.
As I write these words, I am challenging myself as well as you, Dear Reader, to kindle those fruits of the spirit, so that our words may be more reflective of those ideals. I fear that without sensitive hearts, we will all suffer the rapid burn of uncontrolled tongues or dashing fingers and thumbs across keyboards.
As the saying goes, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” And, while my individual words may never win any literary recognition or publication, I pray to improve so that my writing, my social accounts, and my day-to-day interactions reflect more of a positive light.
Fertilizer or fire. Peace or Agitation. Forgiveness or resentment. Upliftment or downtrodden. Written or spoken, our words matter.
With human’s ability to create fire, darkness was shaken, and life was Divinely elevated, but at the flames’ edge remains the darkness.
May our words pass on light, warmth, and illuminate a path out of darkness.