Sunday, January 08, 2006

The recent West Virginia coal mine tragedy has me thinking a lot about the power of language--the power language has to create joy, to bring devastation, to heal. It was words, a mishearing, misinterpretation of words, that led people to believe their loved ones were alive. It was words that later informed people their loved ones hadn't made it after all. These puffs of breath, these small units of sound, can make our hearts soar, make our hearts stop.

I was touched by the fact that the miners chose to write farewell messages to their loved ones. They knew their words would survive them, would carry their love, carry some modicum of comfort, to those they left behind. Words could never in a million years replace the flesh and blood presence of these men, of course, but what a gift for grieving relatives to be able to read "Tell all - I see them on the other side," and "It wasn't bad, I just went to sleep," and "I love you." Think of how much darker the void would have been without those words offering pin pricks of light.

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