What Words Can't Do

I love words.

Braggadocio, radicchio, ramshackle, pinochle, mooch, mauve!

There are cool words: swagger, moxie, panache, bayou. And words that stumble in your mouth: circuitous, phlegmatic, abstemious, pulchritude.

Words can soothe and warm us like a hot oven warms a cold kitchen. Words can unsettle and unnerve us: Truth. Power. Mortality.

Words can drop us down, pick us up, include, exclude, accuse, absolve, harm, atone. And everything in between and around.

Words can do all that. And still, words fall short.

They cannot wrap themselves around grief. Or the horror humans wreak on each other.

Words often aren’t full enough to capture how love soars, shame shrinks, delight opens, fear closes.

If we can’t find the words or do not have the words, we likely don’t need a dictionary. There are times when words can’t contain human experience.

And still, I love words. The force of language, Toni Morrison wrote, “is in its reach towards the ineffable.”

These words of ours are incomplete tools. And their incompleteness mirrors the human condition: we are whole, but we are never complete. We, too, reach towards the ineffable.

So we whole humans use whole dictionaries. And the magic, if not the very sacredness of life, lies in its refusal to be wholly contained in words.

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