in the beginning was the word.
the syntax of life is messy. sentences are left incomplete, fragments abound, punctuation is optional. language cannot frame life, only give voice to our feeble attempts to understand, to share, to express. hierarchies quickly dissolve into webs of relationship where beginning and ending are lost in the wheel of past participle and future perfect.
life is for the living, but in this world we expend such effort to summarize our existence: to name, describe, defend our lives. from birth our accounting begins: girl, boy, child of, sister to, 8 pounds, 3 oz, 27 inches. the ledger grows until the weight of summarization threatens to swallow you. who are you, underneath all those words? do you remember? do you want to, or have they become comfortable, like a familiar sweater that smells of your own stink and you know doesn’t itch? student, achiever, athlete, intellectual, employee, mother, wife. what power words have to define our lives.
and when we die? what happens then? the early graffiti artists carved their stories into cave walls; we find and cherish these glyphs as proof of our history. the words inscribed in stone, if we are fortunate to afford such luxury. to be known to future generations is a privilege of wealth. the mummified pharos were buried with their gold and their words. we know them now, a thousand years beyond their graves. those without wealth or notoriety are left to carve their message into whatever surface they can find, dirt, stone, sand, the bark of a tree. declarations of love, moments in time captured by a date, a name or even initials - what words remain when we are long gone?
and what of the stone engraved with the epitaph? we carve our message, nod our heads in congratulation and are gone, while they wear the words of our histories for generations. the stonework cracks, lichen grows and spreads, a bee rests inside the letter ‘a’ while a deer nibbles the weeds that spring forth around edges of the broken granite slab. the letters blend and finally blur until message and meaning are lost. nature takes our words and holds them, keepers of the text, maintaining a silent vigil as the wind and rain gradually erase the scars of humans and our desperate need to be remembered. no other animal does this.
(i, too, am not immune)