I love words. I love writing them, hearing them and reading them. Words make up an essential part of our life. We remember them-sometimes playing them over and over again in our head. They can give us comfort…or cause us grief. They are powerful in that way. When we don’t have them-or can’t find the right ones, we feel lost…misunderstood. We think of our voice and ability to understand language as probably one of the most important talents we have.
One of the most meaningful aspects of my job is being able to see how the brain functions and compensates in the face of disruption. Both the ability to understand language and the speech center are located in the brain-when one or both are affected, the effects are profound. Even more fascinating, though, is how communication changes between people when this occurs. Take the words away-or even affect how they are interpreted or come out-suddenly you strip away some of the peripheral “stuff”. What you’re often left with (if you remain engaged) is generally just truth and honesty. It can be very moving.
One evening this week I was assisting a patient with Alzheimer’s disease. He had a photo on his wall of something that had been the focus of his life-professionally and personally. I pointed it out to him commenting on the photography. As his gaze fell on the wall, the body language that ensued was so powerful…softening of his face and the peaceful smile on his mouth-until he tried to tell me what the photograph was of. His body tightened and his face began to shift into a frown. As he fumbled for the words trying to name it, he grew more unsettled. Diverting our discussion back to other things in the photograph allowed him to focus back on what was important-not the label of the “thing”. It really doesn’t matter what something is called-as long as that something means something the emotions speak for themselves…sometimes so much more accurately than any word ever could. I know how he feels about that part of his life, and it reminded me of how I feel about my own passions. The “right” words were not necessary.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of this when I’m writing. I often worry that I’m not able to capture the essence of something when I’m describing it-or that maybe someone won’t quite understand what I’m saying or “get” my point. Getting lost in the structure or the wording choice ends up with me too caught up in the details and not caught up enough in the feeling. Having experienced it myself, feelings are the best place to get lost and much easier to navigate through than words.