It’s been over five years since the first time I stood at Ground Zero. Back then it was a pit full of cranes and heavy equipment. I stood there at the beginning of September, in the heat and the sweat and watched men work on beams so high that they looked like toys. They still wore masks as they beat metal into submission, trying to reach the sky with the bones of another building. I remember the emotional toll it took on me and how it felt to be there but not much about the area itself because the whole place was still off limits and under construction. I remember standing in front of the fire station, sobbing uncontrollably and clutching the wall. I remember looking over at the church and being angry at the idea that people viewed its unscathed structure as a miracle and proof of their god, when so much around it had been destroyed. I wondered how they could still believe in anything at all. It seemed that no one was paying attention to the space – and I was horribly offended by that idea. How could the world not stop? How did people walk next to the construction zone every day without breaking? How could things just go on?
DISCLAIMER: This is a current affairs post that references the heinous death of a small child. Read with caution.
Language is fascinating. The spoken word, body language, foreign languages and the dead ones are all so intriguing. We depend on words and communication to live, love and thrive – yet everyone hears and says things differently and those very same words mean totally different things to every person on the planet. My definition of love is not yours. We can read the dictionary for a broad concept, but what I interpret that concept to be may not be the same as anyone else. For instance, when I say I love you and you say it back, we are likely saying two totally different things.
There are bridges of course. Obviously, to say that phrase usually means there are probably deep feelings and an enduring fondness that’s more intimate than average, but when I say those tiny words it is never just a response or a light statement. I mean that I will likely have strong feelings for you for the rest of my days, even if we lose touch or change parameters. I’m saying that despite anything that may happen, if you needed me ever, I would be there. I’m saying that we should sing sad songs in the night over bottles of wine, wander the streets and cemeteries, that we should jump out of a perfectly good plane together or that I may want to hold your hand. It means that I respect you, that it would hurt me if you went away, that I would help you hide the body if you needed it or that I recognize that I have become vulnerable to you and that you are under my skin. I’m saying adventures are ahead and stories are behind and that I hope we will have plenty more. I have your back, your secrets and your bail. Sometimes it means that I don’t like you at all right now but would never leave your side or betray your trust. Sometimes it means that I want to run my fingers along the small of your back or the curve of your head and stare into your eyes for eternity. Other times it means that I don’t have time but I want you to know that I care for you. Yet all the time, it is summed up simply by “I love you”.
Likely, these are not the same definitions that anyone else has, but when they say it to me, these things are what I hear, because it is my definition. It is almost positively not what they meant. There are many people who don’t think about it at all – and that say those same words just because they were said to them, or they don’t want to fight, or that they do in fact, love someone too even if skydiving is not an option or they won’t feel the same in a decade or 3.
So how do we as a whole deal with the fact that every single word means something totally different on a personal level to each person on the planet? We don’t. We go with the shortcuts, the common denominator, the safe responses and the lip service. If we didn’t, and we chose to really explain our own definitions, the entire language would change. Communication would either improve or implode, those in our lives would actually hear what we are trying to convey and relationships may not be so hard – or so easy for some. Instead, we rush into relationships and friendships thinking that we have the same ideals and the same fondness, so it must be the same feelings for each of us…and often times we are shattered, resentful or frustrated when the definitions that we didn’t share don’t match up later on down the road.
The time to pause, to be thoughtful and to reflect on every word is a luxury that most don’t have. Most people don’t even spell the words out anymore in this OMGLOLROTFLMAO age of truncation and keyboard life. In the days of 140 characters or less, we don’t even have the ability to define ourselves or explore our words. We simply shove our feelings into soundbites and status updates or we expound upon them alone in journals, music, poetry or blogs…just as I am now. Trust me, the irony is not lost and it grows with each keystroke every day.
Still, as I struggle (and mostly fail) to learn one of the most difficult languages I have ever attempted (Irish) I find myself wondering if anyone can master any language at all – even their own. I wonder how many miscommunications and arguments could have been solved instantly. I wonder how many marriages, contracts or friendships could have been saved just by studying ourselves, our definitions and our languages a little more – because we ALL have our own. It may use common words but our language is individual and solitary. The trick is learning it and sharing it with others.