Seismic

I get to work in words. Words are my work. I really love the whole world of  language. All of its nuances and origins and different meanings and inferences with just a flick of the tongue or curl of the lip. Before our recent trip to Scotland, one of the things I looked forward to most was listening to the language, and hearing where and how we say things in Tennessee and the Carolinas originated, changed, spun and became, well, Southern. And I was not disappointed!

But back to words. And straight to my point. Some words are seismic. Some words—once said, once read, once written—can rock a world. There are the obvious ones and then the previously innocent ones, that, in context, out of context, on purpose, or by mistake, shake things up, for better or for worse.

“Well, you know, Mother never said much,” Aunt Betty reminded me during a recent visit. She was talking about my grandmother, Mama Sue, a steady, strong influence in my life, even as she lays in bed unseeing and unknowing with Alzheimer’s Disease.

I quickly flipped through the “things Mama Sue must have told me” files in my brain. Mama Sue never said much? Well, yeah, but what about that time she …

“Can we swim?”

“Come look in the pool.”

“What are those?”

“Tadpoles.”

“What are tadpoles?”

“Well, wait a few days and they will be frogs.”

And every day I came and watched the tadpoles, until one day, they were gone.

“What happened to the tadpoles?”

“They turned into frogs and hopped away.”

And there it was, my first biology lesson, in 25 words or less.

And then when I was in first grade, I got my thumbnail smashed. Not gently, either. It featured gushing, spewing blood and blood curdling screams. It turned purple, blue, then black, and needed to come off. But with all the force of a 35-pound six-year-old with a pixie haircut, I forbid anyone to come near it. Until Mama Sue.

“Let’s see that thumb.”

“Hmmm. Come over here in my lap and let me cut it for back for you.”

“Otherwise you’re going to catch in on something and make it hurt again.”

And just like that, it was all gone and all better. Neither of us said much at all, and absolutely no one screamed.

I never realized it in quite that way. No, Mama Sue never said much. But she did much. And made much of an impression, on all of us she loved. She led a seismic life with a minimum use of words.

I love being waist deep in words every day. It’s been all I ever wanted. I’m so grateful for it.

But what Aunt Betty said about Mama Sue was seismic for me. I felt a shift. Not like the shift a word like cancer delivers (and it does). Still, a shift. A conviction. An acknowledgment of the knowledge that often we should say less and do more. If not always.

Is that the lesson I’ve been given to keep as mine as I wonder why she is still in this world? The funny thing is, Mama Sue still has speech. She whispers and mumbles and sometimes we can make out a name. Honestly, I have no idea what to think about it. I have no idea what to say about it. There are no words.

Even so, I doubt I’ll ever be remembered by, “Aprill never said much.”

Words. They possess seismic properties. But what we do can be even more powerful. What we do can change a world, even that of a six-year-old girl, blessed and kept safe and healed in so many ways by a woman who never said much.

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