I believe in the power of the word

by Mr. Sheehy

I’ve built my life on the power of the word.

I originally won my wife’s attention by writing her letters – long ones about any odd detail of any day. They were more like essays really, and I’d write two a week. They formed one side of an extended conversation where I attempted to present myself in all reality, so that even through a letter she’d experience the real me; of course to accomplish that I needed the perfect words in the perfect form. It must have worked, because we began dating a year later, and a half year after that we found ourselves in the same spot—connected only by our words, me in Alaska, her “down south,” me writing her a letter every day. This time the exchange of letters sowed our desire to be married.

Now, as our three children grow, I am attempting to express love to them in the best way I know how, through words. As often as I can I write of their antics, their quips, and their achievements (and my thoughts about them), in journals and essays. I hope to compile them in a type of family book, a kind of memoir and family history they can read long after I have forgotten the incidents in it. Like those letters to my wife, I want this book to convey me in all my reality, even as it will convey to my children their own reality, what they are like. If I write accurately and compellingly, my words can serve as a reference in their understanding of themselves.

My need for words thrust me into two careers – the first one announcing on the radio, the second teaching English. In this second endeavor, one lesson I reiterate frequently is that words matter. I cite George Orwell’s contention in 1984 that thought lives on words. For Big Brother to control people’s thoughts, he had to limit their words. Even now, more than 60 years after Orwell, in a multi-media, image-laden age that I embrace enthusiastically, words matter and have lost none of their power.

That power is profound. As John says in his gospel, the Word was there in the beginning. And it is ultimately on the power of that Word, the Logos who fittingly enabled the act of creation, that I lay my trust; and I celebrate him through my own creative act – building new strings of words, conveying thoughts in ways worth sharing.

Annie Dillard tells of a student who asked an author whether she might herself become a writer. “’Well,’ the writer said, ‘I don’t know. . . . Do you like sentences?’”

This writer had not asked this question of me, but if she had, I would eagerly have told her that I do like sentences, for sentences are made up of words, and the power of the word is something I believe in. I have built my life upon it.

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