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The gift of words (01/24/2010)
By Janet Lewis Burns
The first words uttered by man, “yes, dear,” may well have forged the way to the cohabitation of the sexes, leading to a strained and often dysfunctional conundrum, as we witness today. Those who believe that man and woman evolved from apes might look at it more like, “ugh, your cave or mine!” Animals!

Society flounders in a maelstrom of words. Couples face marriage vows, prenuptial agreements, infidelity, same-sex marriage laws, alimony, child support, custody battles over the beloved pooch, and telltale e-mail messages. Leave it to us Homo sapiens to complicate things! Down through the ages marital bliss has turned to rotten apples.

Words - this is what it’s all about! Anybody interested in how the initial dictionary was compiled? Some years ago, I read this national bestseller, “The Professor and the Mad Man,” written by Simon Winchester. One may assume that such subject matter as the making of the first Oxford English Dictionary would make for a dry-as-dust novel. Wrong!

It’s amazing that this feat was a 70-year project. Published in 1927, its twelve volumes defined 414,825 words, had 1,827,306 illustrative quotations, and were all hand-set and done by letterpress.

The gift of words – priceless! The story of Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) has never ceased to amaze me! In her infancy she was rendered blind and deaf by disease. Keller worked unceasingly, from a young age, to become fluent in using sign language and mastering the Braille alphabet. She learned to speak seven languages and lectured in 35 countries on all five continents. At Keller’s memorial service, her own eloquent words were read: “...my tongue will not utter the bitter, futile words that rise to my lips and fall back into my heart like washed tears. Silence sits immense upon my soul.” To think, she became-well known as a witty, incredibly interesting conversationalist!

Bring to mind the countless individuals who, down through the ages, have communicated earth-shattering theories and life altering discoveries, who have exchanged knowledge and perceptions to achieve advancements in all areas of living.

35th U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963,) 43 at the time of his election, embodied the ideals of the American people. Few may remember that Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his “Profiles in Courage.” He created the Peace Corps in 1961. JFK was a compelling speaker, pledging with his words and actions an ambitious political agenda of economic expansion, civil rights, world peace, and a war on poverty.

On a daily basis, authors, poets, and journalists speak to whoever is listening. I think of American poet Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892,) who was lauded for his charity to others and his compassionate love of nature and country. In his eulogy it was stated that he was a poet of democracy and of the human race.

I was always intrigued by any movie Bette Davis was in, playing her bizarre roles as though she was the genuine character of her portrayal. In her eulogy, James Woods said of Davis (1908-1989,) as she appeared on screen, “She presented a glimpse into the human soul I thought I had no right to see.”

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968) once had a dream. He spoke out loud and clear for liberty and justice for all, and paid the ultimate price. His clairvoyant words still ring out today.

People like cartoonist Charles Schultz (1922 – 2000) made the world laugh and challenged readers to find truth in simplicity and wisdom in irony. Charlie Brown’s gang gave readers a great deal to relate to. It was often like laughing at yourself.

Wordsmiths have given, and continue to bless the world with bright ideas, insight, humor, incentive, wit, understanding, wisdom, and the wealth of experience...through the indubitable gift of words.

As we live, we are scripting our own eulogies. Make yours a #1 bestseller!

Janet Burns has earned her BS degree in the School of Hard Knocks. For some friendly word play, she can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.



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