Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Dodging Tumbleweed

“ A word is like the thread that leads you out of the labyrinth. It’s not much—it’s so thin it’s barely there- but it’s enough to remind you of the things you already know, so you can retrace your steps when you’re lost in the dark.”  - John Koenig: Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


We can’t wholly know that which we don’t have language for. The right word—or words—can be a life changer. Personally and collectively. For example, the term “systemic racism” lifted our narrow view of our inherited horror as an unfortunate series of personal prejudices to a purposefully created and maintained ideology that is found in every corner of our collective culture. Now that we know that, we can call it out and finally begin to send it away. Having the right language to describe what has been hidden in plain sight for centuries is the first step.


And so a central gift of an enlightened education is a constantly enlarging vocabulary. That includes restoring words to their original root meanings, as Michael Meade does so expertly in his talks on mythology. It includes probing into some secret potentials of words we take for granted as David Whyte does so poetically in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. It includes making up new words to describe nuances of emotion that have not yet been named, as John Koenig does so intriguingly in his book The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


All of this is prelude to a new phrase I came up with from our recent drive back from Palm Springs—dodging tumbleweeds. As described in my last post of 2022, there was a gusty wind on Rt. 5 that was sending the shallow-rooted tumbleweeds—well, tumbling— across the highway, with all of us cars trying to dodge them, like players in a  giant pinball game. Some of the weeds were enormous, but most of them benign, being so light that one crashing into the car created little or no damage. 


So this is my new image of all the small annoyances that beset us most days— the scam e-mails, the check that didn’t clear, the flights that got cancelled, the sink that won’t drain, the Website that needs to be re-done because someone hacked into it (all of which happened to me the past couple of weeks). It’s like driving down the road of life dodging the tumbleweed. Worthy of attention, but compared to the big disasters that could be or are or are yet to come, not worth the curse words we throw at them. Just this ongoing game of dodging the tumbleweed.


Happy driving!

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