If I were not writing this piece as a part of the On Fire for Life series, I would have titled it "The Case for the Dictionary"
As an English teacher and a lover of reading and writing you would think I would have also loved the dictionary. I did see its purpose, but I did not think of it as one of the strongest tools or resources for my students or even myself. In other words, it was not the first place I thought to look to find the precise word I needed.
As a child who struggled with reading most of my elementary and middle school years, the dictionary was a scary place. There were so many words. How would I ever know all of that? How would I ever be able to read or understand it all?
Well guess what, I realized something profound – I don’t have to know it all, read it all, or even understand it all. I get the incredible honor of learning one word at a time using it for the purpose for which it is intended – to finely craft my writing, my thoughts, and expose myself to words that can help me paint a vivid picture for my audience. Whether that is myself, my family, or my classroom of students.
Do I need to use the dictionary every time I sit down to read or write? No, not really. Would it be a good idea to? Absolutely!
So, back to the case for the dictionary.
I have been doing an inordinate amount of processing and healing over the past several years and during that time much reading in the Bible, psychology, and self-help books and I have been talking to people. People who are hurting and healing too. During this time, I really began to understand and appreciate the dictionary because it offers us a place of hope and healing too. I know! I was shocked too.
There are words that we carry with us that have a very negative connotation, but when we stop to look them up and look at all of the definitions – which by the way the verb “set” has 430 definitions listed according to the Guinness Book of World Records ---we can sometimes find a denotative definition very different from what we thought.
Let’s take a moment to look at the word drowning – I have felt like this often and I have heard it often from my students.
According to Merriam-Webster drown means:
1) To suffocate by submersion especially in water
2) To submerge especially by a rise in the water level
3) To soak, drench, or cover with a liquid
4) To engage deeply and strenuously
5) To cause not to be heard by making a loud noise – usually used with the word out
6) To drive out (something, such as a sensation or idea)
So, some of these definitions sound terrible, awful even, but let’s keep looking.
Definition 1: To suffocate by submersion especially in water.
My first question: Am in water? Answer: Well, no, but it certainly feels like it.
Okay, so I get it. You are not in water, but it feels like you are, so let’s take a closer look at the word suffocate. The first two definitions are exactly as I suspected “to stop the respiration of (as by strangling or asphyxiation) or deprive of oxygen.” The next is a little lighter “to make uncomfortable by want of fresh air.” Okay, so if I just step away for a bit, into lighter air, I can breathe again, and I can feel the tide shift. I am no longer treading water. I feel the sand beneath my feet. As, I read the definitions just one line further I see “to impede or stop the development of.” Wait! WHAT!?!?! I thought I was suffocating and drowning.
As I rewrite this definition: To “impede or stop the development of” by submersion especially in water.
I suddenly become hopeful, feeling like I am drowning might actually be okay if I can “impede or stop the development” of being submerged – yes, I know that is not exactly what that sentence says –but work with me for just a second.
So, now I am cookin’ with hot oil and I have time to fry up some good ‘ol chicken. Now, I am excited! I have tools in place to help me know what to do next. First, I need to figure out:
How do I impede or stop the development of feeling like I am submerged in water?
So, I sit and write out everything I need to get done.
I create a list.
Then I work the list.
One task. One item at a time.
My students call with questions. I answer them.
And go back to my list.
My supervisor calls with a question. I answer her.
And go back to my list.
My colleague calls with a question. I answer her.
And go back to my list.
My colleague asks if someone can help with a project.
I look at my list.
I decide about whether I can help based on my list.
I say, I would love to help, but I am not able to at this time. Or I would love to help, but I won’t be able to get it done until at least _____________.
Then I go back to my list.
As you can see, it did take me a little extra time to sit with the dictionary, to sit with the words, and to create a plan, but now I might actually have time to cook fried chicken for dinner tonight because I am no longer drowning – or at least not drowning in the way I once felt. I am on solid ground, working through my list one step, one task at a time. If I am pulled off track for a moment, it’s okay. I have foundation in place now. Something I can go back to. It tells me exactly what I need to get done.
Or at the very least I can go back to “to ‘impede or stop the development of’ by submersion especially in water” and envision myself taking a deep breathe in and being totally submerged under the water letting it cleanse and wash over me, as I decide what direction I want to head.
I am in control. I breathe deep. I am thoughtful. I move slower. I am awake. I am alive. I smile. I am on fire. I love life. I am at peace.
If you would like to dig deeper and practice your dictionary skills click here for more.
Have a beautiful day ya’ll!
All my love,
To view On Fire for Life|Week 5 Day 2|The Power of Words click here.
To view the On Fire for Life series click here.