I have been caught thinking about two different contrasts lately.
No surprise to those who know me, I place a high value on my facility with language. I love combing my trove of vocabulary to find the word(s) that most accurately surround(s) the feeling or idea I wish to express. Words enflesh, they fill out, they render tangible and visible/conceivable ideas that otherwise might be lost in the ether of unknowing. I have said many a time that I think best with a pen in hand.
And yet… I had a different experience entirely during a class last period on a recent Friday. Because of the wan, limping affect flopped across the faces of my students, I opted to tell them a story instead of having them engage in research for a major project they have. It is a story I wrote nearly ten years ago. It stays the same basic story each time, but because it is a story I know by heart and not by memorization, there are tweaks, additions, and deletions each retelling. One thing always remains, however. And one of my students latched onto it immediately when the story ended. “What was her name??” She was asking about the main character. I smiled. “I didn’t give her one.” “Didja forget it? Didja mean to leave her without a name??” “Yep. It was an intentional decision.” By this time, other kids were thinking about this and had hands raised to offer their considerations on this. We talked about how names immediately conjur images that stick around whether we really want them to or not. By her not having a name, she could be anyone and everyone and she could change. I told them that she has changed for me over the years. The picture I have in my mind now is certainly not what it was ten years ago.
When people or things or experiences are contained by language, a little of the elasticity is gone…and yet, how else do we know a thing? A person? One of the quickest ways to dehumanize someone is to never use their name. Yet, as I wrote in my journal that evening, “there are those things that suffer at the imposition of language.”
The other contrast I have noticed of late is one of space.
I was at a recently at a reception after hearing a speaker and was approached by someone who was friendly enough but sent every vibe in my psyche haywire. In the midst of the seventy or eighty people gathered in a small space, I needed immediate distance from this person. Behind me was a group of friends who were talking with someone else. In my attempt to achieve distance, I felt myself moving backwards and tucking myself behind one of them. I could not have been closer to her. My shoulder was wedged behind hers and I was backed into the midst of their grouping. They didn’t object–they are friends–it’s NYC–everyone is always smashed together.
What a contrast that physical/mental distance from one can be achieved by proximity to others. Safety in distance and safety in numbers.
Much to contemplate.