Do Words Matter?

Do words matter?  Sometimes I feel like words are just words.  They diffuse into the air like an exhalation in winter.  The wind sweeps them away and the cold robs them of whatever warmth they carried.  And so often, only the speaker remembers what he said; the listener was never listening and never had anything to forget.

Yet I know this only to be true part of the time.  Words also harm, and their sting lingers long after they’ve been uttered or printed.  They sometimes gladden.  Not all of them disappear.  Some of them last.

Words tell stories, and when they tell stories words really are more than words.  They paint pictures.  They convey tragedy and joy.  They touch people.  When words tell stories they are life itself.  Identities, whole histories, cultures, and peoples are bound up in them.

I didn’t go to Chile.  There was a hiccup in my job search.  I don’t have adequate words to express the state I’m in.  Confusion, sadness, doubt, frustration—these speak to part of what I’m feeling inside, but they’re just words.  They don’t tell the story.  But maybe this post as a whole will succeed where they fail.  Maybe it will convey my ambivalence, this sense of not knowing what to feel or what to say, of not knowing what’s going to happen or where I’m going to be in two days, this aching worry about loved ones and the need to do right by them–and always the question: Did writing this help?  Did it matter?

Yes, it did.

This is life.  It ain’t always perfect, but it moves on anyway.

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

32 Responses to Do Words Matter?

  1. Joss says:

    sometimes, putting things into words is what keeps us going!

    • You’re right, and I’ve been avoiding doing exactly that. It always helps, and I think it’s important to maintain the habit. Once you lose it, it’s really hard to get it back.

  2. findmepeace says:

    I admire your courage for having made the move in the first place. Uprooting from the comfort, challenging your identity and it all knows. Stay brave. Have a read of this: Would be interested to hear your take on it.

  3. anda says:

    Love “diffuse like exhalation in winter.” Your words matter because they are from the heart.

  4. Yes! Words do matter, more than we know. I am so sorry to hear what I’m hearing between your words- pain, worry.

    I believe it is good to write of the barriers we encounter in our lives, they give form and dimension to our journey. As we describe them and our feelings about them, we heal and our words light up our own path. Not right away, perhaps.

    Fear not….trust your deep, inner voice. It is never wrong.

    • Michelle says:

      Melissa, you always say such wonderful things! I think you must be a very nice person. When I read your words, the voice in my head is soft-spoken and soothing. Is it possible for our words to so easily represent who we are, or am I just hearing voices?

      You often say what I meant to convey and somehow never do. I strongly agree about that inner voice – the real one, not that guy at street-level that’s screaming in your ear in near panic. Maybe I’m the only one who has that voice, though. See how much nicer your voice is than mine?

      Okay, sorry to nutt

      • Well, you’re right, of course: Melissa always says just what we need to hear, and it’s always soothing, and I’m always grateful. BUT, you do that too, Michelle!!! That “never” in your comment bugs the crap out of me! You responded to one of my posts after my grandfather died and almost entirely because of you I kept blogging. If yours isn’t a soothing voice, then whose is? You always come across as honest. That’s what I like best.

        That guy at street-level screams in my ear, too. You’re not alone! 🙂

    • Thank you, Melissa. I agree with you. We never know how much our words matter. I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve taught and tutored a couple of thousands kids by now, and I wonder all the time what impact I had on their lives. It’s something a teacher rarely knows with specificity, not in a long-term sense. But I know the impact my teachers had on me, and it was magical. It still is.

  5. Michelle says:

    I’m sorry to hear about the job “hiccup”, although that could mean a lot of different things, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will still go your way.

    I so agree with findmepeace, it was a brave move. You’ve already done something very bold, so I’d hate to see you lose the faith now.

    My philosophy has always been that whatever happens was meant to happen…because, hey, it already happened. There’s no going back now, it will never un-happen! Like you said, life goes on. I guess the question for us is are we going to move on with it, or what?

    • Yeah, I’m being vague. I’m avoiding talking about it… I admit. Everything was right, then everything was uncertain. Also vague! Well, concretely, I was offered a job, but it turns out that the people who offered it to me didn’t know what they thought they knew. So the offer may not last. Still vague, but I have to keep it that way.

      I try really hard to live by the same philosophy. You articulated it better than I do in my head. And that question, whether we’re going to move on with life or not, really is the only one that matters in the end. It’s not even choice, is it? 🙂 That puts things into perspective.

      • I was on my phone, so that last bit with Melissa was meant to be ‘sorry to butt in on someone else’s comment on someone else’s blog’. But I felt compelled to say I think she’s great.

        And…true, you have to “move on” with life in terms of you have to keep living. But at the same time, people backtrack all the time. When things get tough, it’s so easy to turn back to what is comfortable (well, for me anyway) and what feels safe. The hardest thing is to keep rolling with it, to keep going in a direction that feels awkward and uncomfortable.

        I am amazed at how many students you’ve come in contact with. To have made a positive impact on one of them would be enough. But I bet you’d be surprised (I know YOU would) by how many kids you’ve influenced.

  6. Patti Ross says:

    Yes, words matter–and yours are heard as well as the emotion they convey behind the words. Stay strong, it is a cliche to say another opportunity will come, but all you can do is move forward. I hope it helps to know you have been heard and understood as best as we can.

  7. sibianul says:


    I just wanted to thank you for your beautiful essays, I read them every time with passion.

    One day you really should write a book 😉


    • Thank you so much! I’ll be honest: Few people ever found an easy path to publishing a book, but I find the whole idea SO daunting and frightening in today’s media. I know it’s possible (and it doesn’t have to be literally a print book), but it is daunting. Also, I make no assumptions about whether I actually write that well. You’ve given me a huge boost and I appreciate it!

      • changingmoods says:

        I heard about a young woman who became a millionaire by self-publishing an e-book, so you never know.

        • It’s absolutely worth trying. The publishing world is a confusing place these days, but I guess a lot of people would argue that there are more opportunities than ever if you’re willing to experiment and work at it.

  8. I’m so sorry your plans got changed. It’s funny because at our contemporary service at church last night the topic was Plan B. I’m pretty sure it’s a book. It definitely sounds like you’re experiencing Plan B. But so does every person destined to greatness! You’re in good company.

    • Thank you for encouraging me! I don’t know for sure yet what Plan B is. Well, actually, odds are good that I’ll end up back in Texas. But who knows? I like that Plan B was the topic at your church! It helped me to hear that 🙂

  9. pattisj says:

    Your words are telling a story, your story. Keep writing them and see where the journey takes you.

  10. changingmoods says:

    “I don’t have words to express the state I’m in. Confusion, sadness, doubt, frustration—these speak to part of what I’m feeling inside, but they’re just words.”

    They’re more than just words—they’re states of being, they’re emotions. Putting them out there does help to sort your feelings out.

  11. I had a boyfriend once tell me “I know how important words are to you,” and it made me pause. He was right, of course. I think that’s probably why we’re all writers and poets here on this page.

    When I lived in Switzerland for seven years and had to learn to make myself understood in another language (a dialect, no less) I was frustrated at not knowing the intricacies of another language, the double meanings and sly nuances of saying one thing but meaning another. It killed me to not be able to express myself fully for those years. Words were reduced to something utilitarian and perfunctory, and I missed the poetry of language.

    (And for the record, I had another boyfriend once tell me I had “the attention span of a gerbil.” Good thing I went into teaching.)

    • I relate to your experience in Switzerland. I don’t know if I’ve said this anywhere on my blog (or maybe it’s just obvious), but I teach Spanish. In the beginning, learning the language frustrated me to no end (I know I’m not alone… in particular because every year I see students struggle in the same way). But at some point I made a breakthrough and suddenly I could discern all of these nuances in the language that I had missed before. It’s like looking at a beautiful tapestry and at first seeing only the overall patterns. Then, once you’ve spent some time with the tapestry, once you’ve studied it and thought about it and moved beyond trying to reason through its appearance, you begin to see the threads woven through it, and you understand the delicate craftsmanship that went into creating it. The nuances of the work jump out at you with no obvious effort on your part. The tapestry reveals itself to you, and you feel like you’ve unlocked a mystery, though you can’t pinpoint how it happened or what the key was. I think most rich learning is like that.

      This may be kind of belabored, but bear with me! Something like this happened to me with Spanish. It started to make sense. It revealed itself to me. Suddenly the poetry of the language, the rhythms that only it possesses, drifted toward me from the pages of great Spanish works and from the mouths of ordinary Spanish speakers. We kind of absorbed each other, the language and I. I had a Peruvian professor who once told me that another language allows you to try on a different self. Spanish did that for me. And I see all the time its influence in my writing.

      By the way, how did it feel to hear your boyfriend recognize the importance of words to you? I would love for someone to say that to me. 🙂

  12. It stunned me. He had hit the nail on the head and it was if he was telling me something I’d never realized before. I suddenly felt naked, as if I’d been exposed to the world, and I was embarrassed. He was 12 years younger than me, and I had been grappling with the age difference because I adored him. His words weren’t necessarily flattering, though, because in the end he couldn’t give me the words that I needed to hear. He also later told me he wanted to keep things “light and easy.” He stopped then, looked at me, and said, “And you’re anything but light and easy.” Now THAT I had to admit was true! Ah well, at least I got a great poem out of the relationship . . .

  13. diana1604 says:

    So true. The same message using different words have enormouse power to change the world because the world starts with perceptions which comes from thoughts that are formed by words. However, the power of pictures is not to be dismissed. A picture is a poem without words.

    • You hit on something I wanted to flesh out more: “the world starts with perceptions which come from thoughts that are formed by words.” Language often dictates what we see and how we see it. You put it really well. And I definitely agree about pictures.

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