This was the final paper for my Literature: Autobiography class this semester. It is written according to the guidelines of the “This I Believe” project.
I believe in words.
My mother tells me that when I first learned how to talk I would only say the end of words. Watermelon became “lon-lon”. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I was an American child learning to speak English in Jamaica. Rather than choose the American or Jamaican pronunciation, I made up my own way. My father also tells me a story about when I was first learning to use words. I was two years old and playing with some little boys of the same age. My father was watching us in the front yard when a red car parked in front of our house. My little friends and I were very amused. The little boys started making car sounds–“brrrrrmmmm”, “beep-beep”. I stood beside them saying things like “look, it’s a car”, “pretty car”.
I was four years old when I discovered that words can be given to others without actually saying them. Books. My favorite book was about a wig on a pig. There was another book about a boy flying a kite. The book had a line that went something like, “I fly a kite.” I read it aloud as, “He flies a kite.” My teacher kept insisting that I was reading it wrong. I kept insisting that the story wasn’t about me so of course I wasn’t flying the kite. The first time that I wrote my own story (which was about a ladybug) I was amazed by the fact that other people would read it and know just what I was saying. Words on a page took on an almost magical quality. Books became my portal to other worlds.
I was eleven years old when I tried to speak using words different from my own. It was so extraordinary when “naan” started connoting “bread” to me. I have since studied three other languages and each time I begin to recognize the meaning of a word, I get a chill. How do foreign sounds suddenly import deep meaning to me? It is the magic of words that I can (with practice) communicate with a person whose every word used to be strange to me.
Now, in college, I have dedicated four years to studying words. They have become no less mysterious to me, but all the more powerful. I have come across sayings like, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” And “Your words are like honey on my lips.” And “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. How can words fight, taste sweet, and live? I think it is because words are shared among people, but at the same time live a life of their own. Think about it, long after an author dies, his words continue to affect us. It is another magic of words—they can live forever.