Other People’s Words

Using other people’s words says a lot about you.

For good or ill.

I am very conscientious of the amount and from whom I quote. In an era of of inspirational quotes plastered across blurry stock photos, it can get tedious.

More than mildly annoying, the proliferation and access of snippets can cheapen the words’ strength.

Like when you say cheese too many times (cheese, cheese, cheeeeeeseeeee, ch-eh-sah) and you lose the amazing, dairy wonderment.

Similarly, taking complex, interesting, layered words and slapping them across women with their arms open takes away something. Chiefly, our ability to, as John Green says, imagine each other complexly – with all our failings and beauties.

Yet we all need touchstones. Whether it’s the Bible or Beyonce, other people’s words let us know we’re not alone in our hurt, our strivings, our celebrations, our questions.

Those without a poetic voice (ahem) find perfect expression through another’s art; those searching for a grand truth can find a piece in someone else’s revelation; when it feels that absolutely no one could ever understand and we are so, so alone, we can feel resonance, connection and even community.

For that, I find some of myself in the words of others: Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver, Leonard Cohen, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

***

The Art of the Everyday, January 4 – Quote me: Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

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2 thoughts on “Other People’s Words

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve been going through a hard time lately and this makes me think I should focus on small belssings rather than always on the big picture. A favorite quote of mine is Corianthians 4:8 & 16. Look this up if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed..

    • Thanks so much, I’m always looking for ways to remind myself of where I’m really at – I too struggle with not being overwhelmed with the big picture. Thanks also for the good words.

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