Last night, my wife and I heard a noise outside.
“Is it something getting the rooster?” she asked at 2:30 in the morning.
“No…” I answered. “I think it was something behind the house…it was coming from a different direction than the porch.”
We have a rooster that …well, roosts on our porch at night.
He crows at 5:30. I’m usually up so I throw him off the porch when I hear him start crowing so that our 4-year-old can sleep a little later.
We listened for the noise for a while…and then Jenny had another question for me.
“Do sharks have live births? Or do they lay a bunch of eggs?”
I told her we’d have to look it up in the morning…along with whales and dolphins. I didn’t know what sharks did about babies.
(It turns out that most of them lay eggs…but sometimes they hatch inside the female so it’s a live birth…but sometimes it’s eggs, so…..but I guess sometimes it’s a live birth, too. It sounds like sharks are kind of confusing. I guess that whales and dolphins have live births because they’re mammals….)
When things got quiet and we were going back to sleep, I started thinking about where all these words came from.
Not where all the questions we had at 2:45 came from…where all the words we use came from. And not some professorial “well, of course you understand that this or that word was derived from the French word ‘terre’..so ‘le pom de terre’ means quite literally ‘apple of the earth’ ” ( I don’t know if that’s really correct…from what I remember, French was the only class I ever failed in school).
I don’t need the explanation for the origins of specific words or phrases.
What I wondered about last night was how did we get to the point where we have so many ways of describing things?
That’s pretty darn amazing.
They say that the Eskimo has a lot of different words for snow.
A whole bunch of words for “snow”.
What is it about our makeup that demands we work that hard at describing things?
Is it that our spirits are so expansive and BIG that we struggle to express the wonder of everything around us? And a kazillion words is the best we can do.
And a kazillion words…in spite of all our efforts…always fall short of expressing the wonder of the opportunity we’ve been given? The opportunity to be alive and to be aware of the wonder of it all?
There are precise ways of using words…and punctuation…and some of them are cultural and set by geography, some seem kind of haphazard and random.
Words are easy to misuse.
But I do wonder this morning if all our words aren’t just a mask for our inability to really express how amazed we should be at the gifts we’re given.
Maybe if we say enough…and say it all fast enough…no one will notice that we really can’t express the thing we need to express the most.
We will always fall short of expressing that we have begun to understand the blessings.
We will always fall short with our words…but we try.
Maybe that’s almost enough.