shrinking the limitless

My favorite medical condition is called synesthesia. There are a lot of different manifestations, but a common one is being able to see letters in specific colors. I have a friend who has it and will answer quickly and confidently that the letter a is red and m is green. Not surprisingly, most people with synesthesia don’t mind it at all, in fact they see it as a gift.

Seeing colors is great, but the best type of synesthesia is personification, where letters and numbers have their own personality. One patient says, “T’s are generally crabby, ungenerous creatures. U is a soulless sort of thing. 4 is honest, but 3 I cannot trust. 9 is dark, a gentleman, tall and graceful, but politic under his suavity” While I definitely don’t think I am lucky enough to have personification synesthesia, I think that certain words have their own sort of onomatopoeia, they sound like the feeling they are trying to convey. For instance, classic sounds crisp like the first bite of an apple. Felicity sounds whimsical and smells like lavender.

Though there are a lot of great words out there (circadian, cacophony, and zealous to name a few), I often find myself disappointed with the words I have available to me. It gets a little monotonous that the same words describe the same things when it seems like what we are really trying to say is just beyond that. As great as words are, more often that not they fall short. I feel like there is a word that will encompass the things I am trying to say but I just don’t know it yet. Stephen King sums this up really well, “The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them – words shrink things that seem limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important you almost cried while you were saying it.”

The Eskimo have at least eighteen different words for snow, we have one. To them it isn’t just snow it can be fine snow particles, soft deep snow, or my favorite, fallen snow floating on water. I like to think that the language we speak in Heaven will be a lot closer to the fullness of the Eskimos. When we see something, perhaps some beautiful aspect of creation, we will know exactly the word to describe it and maybe even see it in color too. Until that day, I will continue to struggle with my own inadequate words and leave you with the words of Annie Dillard, who is great at making due with the words we’ve got.

“I sip my coffee. I look at the mountain, which is still doing it’s tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feelings save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories.”

“In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God set ‘bars and doors’ and said, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come and no further.’ But have we ever come that far? Have we rowed out to that think darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?”


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Filed under emily, fodder for our memoir

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