I’ve Grown Afraid of Words

I used to write. I used to write quite a lot. I don’t write so much any more. It’s the words. I’ve grown afraid of words.

I used to like words. Short words, long words, ugly words, beautiful words,silly words, profane words, negligible words, obstreperous words, finicky words, unspoken words, words of every kind. I thought every word had a place and a purpose, and if you used them correctly, you could do great things. I thought that words meant things, really truly meant things.

But they don’t, of course. A word doesn’t mean one thing. It means nothing, or else it means too many things, all depending on who uses it and how they use it. You can’t even trust your own words. It’s so easy for someone else to twist them to their own purposes, to make you say things you would have sworn you’d never said.

Words aren’t the only thing I fear. I’ve grown afraid of jokes. Jokes are supposed to be funny, but it seems they so seldom are any more. Sometimes people think your joke isn’t funny, and they think you’re a terrible person for saying it. Sometimes people think your joke isn’t funny because they think it’s actually a pretty good idea. It’s hard to know which of these outcomes has the worse result.

I’m afraid of names, too. I remember reading in mythology about gods and goddesses that would learn each others’ true names, and knowing this name would give them complete power over the named. I think there is power in a name, but I think it more often works the other way around. The thing or being named is what gains the power.  There are words I try not to speak or write any more. They have a habit of changing the words they are near, and you already know how I feel about words.

I’m also afraid of beliefs. I thought that good beliefs led to good occurrences. and bad beliefs led to bad occurrences. But I suppose you know already what happens when you use good intentions in place of asphalt.

Oh, and opinions. Ever so scary, opinions are. Everyone has good opinions and bad opinions. You’d think that we could share them, good and bad alike, learn from the opinions or others (or not), and let others learn from our opinions (or not). But the wrong opinion spoken at the wrong time can mean the end of you. Better to pretend you don’t have any at all, if you ask me.

Thoughts, now, those are pretty scary too, when you think about it. Which you shouldn’t, because, see: you just made another thought. The things proliferate, bubbling and billowing up until you think you’re prone to burst with them. And they tell you that they’ll leave you alone, if you would just give them, really, is it so much to ask, just a word or two to play with.

Words again. Damn words.

If you give a thought a word…it’s going to ask for a sentence to go with it.

When you give it the sentence…it’ll probably ask you for a paragraph.

And on and on it goes, until the thought has so many words that it doesn’t need anything from anyone any more, and off it will roll to terrorize the countryside.

Ideas are ever scarier. They’re like thoughts, except they’ve got bones in them, so you can’t even trick them into shlupping down a storm grate or dissolving in the ocean. If you’ve let an idea loose, your best course of action is to get in your bomb shelter and hope you’ve set aside enough supplies.

But you want to know the scariest thing of all? The last and greatest terror? The thing that keeps me up at night?

Even when I grew afraid of words and jokes and names and beliefs and thoughts and ideas, it’s because I thought they’d all gone wrong. That they were no longer doing what they were supposed to: guide, direct, and point to truth.

I always believed in truth, as much as I believed in the solid ground under my feet. I was convinced that if I put one foot in front of the other, stepping forward always on truth, I would never be led astray.

But look: see what the truth has made me do? It made me set all these words free. So many words. Too many words. I think there might even be some opinions in there. Beliefs and thoughts, too. Maybe even (dare I saw it) an idea.

I told you I’ve grown afraid of words. But I had to use words to tell you so. And to tell you what I was afraid of, I had to give a name to it. ‘Word’ is a name too, after all. You must be very careful when using names.

I could tell you this was all a joke…but we both know it’s too late for that. Even if I said this was a joke, you wouldn’t think it was funny.

I’ve come too far to go back now. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, left foot, right foot, stepping forward on truth. There must be truth. There has to be. If not…what have I been walking on?

It’s getting darker. I can’t see the ground anymore, but I feel it, left foot, right foot, I know it must be there, even if it feels at times like it’s about to give way.

The light will come back. It has to come back.

Left foot, right foot.

I’m almost there, I know it. I’ll know what it was all for, what it all meant.

Left foot, right foot.

Yes, up ahead, I see a glint of light. I see it. I see it! The light grows, and as it returns and I can see again, I look down to see what supports me and

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