Traveling Words

No matter where we wander, words bubble up around us.  They float by us comfortable and familiar when we are near to home, and they confuse and assail us when we are somewhere that is foreign to us.  Words splay themselves across signage.   Characters, letters, and symbols known and unknown reach out to us.  We watch, we wait, we listen, we search for the recognizable especially when we are far from home.

When we travel far from home we try to use the language of the country we are visiting.  We bumble our way through requests for the nearest washroom and stammer our thanks all the while valiantly attempting to master just a word or two.  Truthfully, we are terrible at it but that doesn't prevent us from trying.  Our attempts usually result in the person we are talking to breaking into flawless English as they answer us.  But we don't give up because relaying our thoughts, needs, and thanks to one another is the fertilizer of strong and healthy relationships.  It is how we come to know each other and gain understanding of ourselves and of humanity.  In the spoken and the written word we find meaning and if we keep our ears and eyes attune we can discover layers of life.

I have an affinity for the written word and so I watch for it when we travel.  The past few weeks I have seen beautiful words scripted by hand onto ancient paper safely protected behind glass and I have seen bathroom signs that left me laughing.  Looking at a Bible from the 1600's in the Rijksmuseum made me wonder about the hands that had written it and the hands that had held it.  Passing a window sign in Lisbon, I pondered who Hugo Barros was and why his poster played with words.  Was it intentional?  Taking care of business in the restaurant washroom, I had to capture the sign on the stall because it was a perfect example of saying the wrong thing but still getting the message across.  And then there was the sexy bathroom.  Everyday we were traveling I made notes about the things I had seen and the words.

Oh the words - Holy Bibles, sexy water closets, odd essays, and inadequate objects.  It struck me that we try so hard everyday to communicate with one another through pictures and words in all areas of our lives.  Every attempt at communication has elements of risk involved.  The words we choose may be inadequate or simply wrong.  The words we hear may have meanings for us that the speaker doesn't comprehend.  The spoken words may float right pass the intended ear and the intentions may be forever lost on the wind of breath.  Yet with all the risk of calamity, people around the world try again and again, day after day to reach each other through words.  The reward of bumbling and stammering our way through outweighs the risks for in the words we find the nuances of one another.  Imagine if the world was mute, without words drifting upon our souls.

We cannot allow fear of incorrectness or inadequacy to mute us, to prevent us from speaking and writing our words into the world.  Even if our words are not quite right, like the bathroom sign it might make someone think before they flush anything inadequate!