Imagine a world where all the words you say appear on your skin. Would you be more careful with what you say?
I believe the words of the world do impress upon our bodies somehow. Our inner monologues can grow tendons of courage or deepen the wrinkles of insecurity. The words aimed at us can become a warm healing balm or slice succinctly between cell walls causing pain, wreaking havoc. I know this to be true and I suspect you do as well. I am not the only one cringing at the thought of an election year ahead that carries words used so carelessly, so maliciously. We cringe even when they aren’t aimed right at us, imagine the impact when they are. But that could be a whole other column…
One of my 8th grade students wrote a story where the character’s primary communication was the silent tracing of words on the forearm of the person they were speaking to, which the skin then recognized and translated to the brain as seamlessly as any speech could.
I loved this idea, because it echoes a kernel of truth. It reminded me too of the kindergarten bedtime ritual I had of tracing letters on my boys’ backs to see if they could guess what it was. The idea came from their teacher who told me that it was a way for the letters to be recognized by their brains in a deeper and more lasting way. So each night for months I would tuck their pink cheeked and freshly bathed little bodies under the covers, slowly drawing the ABCs on their soft skinned backs.
What if their teacher was right? Our skin is after all the first thing reached by sound as it travels to our brains, our hearts. What if the question posed earlier changes to this: Imagine a world where the words we said suddenly appeared on the skin of all who heard us? Invisible to the naked eye, but felt as strongly as any physical touch. Would we be more careful with what we say?
Would seeing a child walk by with the word “lazy” on their forehead give us pause? Or a woman wincing with “ugliest girl here” down her arm, a man hefting “weak loser” around his neck. Now picture this, the glow of “I’m so glad to know you” illuminating around a wrist, “you’re beautiful to me” sparkling up and down a spine, or “thank you for understanding” adding bounce to an aging step.
If we saw the mark our words leave. . .
And so tonight, understanding that the only words I have control of are my own, I will be reviving that kindergarten ritual with a newly fashioned twist. While laying quietly by my boys as they fall asleep, I will slowly and without restraint, begin tracing things I want them to know, even if they never know I did so.
I love you, I’m so glad you’re here, you are amazing to me, thank you for coming into this world.
And because I am a mother, and a human, and therefore all-too-prone to times of pouring my hurts out onto others, and worrying unceasingly about it later, I will add Please forgive me to the canon for good measure. And I will patiently hope that their soft skinned backs soak all these words in and weave them into the marrow and muscles and tendons and joints that propel my children forward.
Into what I hope will be a beautifully worded New Year.