A Gift of Words

I have been told by people all my life, “You have a gift for words.”

That sentence was awkward for me to write, because it feels like boastful conceit, but it is a true statement – throughout my life, countless numbers of people have said those words to me. I used to blush and stammer a reply of gratitude, unsure of what to do with such a compliment. When I was younger I didn’t think I was gifted – I believed anyone could write if they set their mind to it. Today, I’m older and wiser, and I still believe anyone can write if they want to bad enough. But I do recognize a gift when I see it, and a natural way with words happens to be mine.

Once, several years ago, a woman said to me, “You have a gift of words.” That was how she put it – “of words”, not “for words”. It was the first time I had ever heard it phrased that way. It seemed like a simple misstatement of a common phrase, like when people say “Daylight Savings Time” instead of “Daylight Saving Time”. The point gets across, regardless of the syntax. But the way she said it stuck with me. I liked it.

I receive gifts every day. We all receive gifts each day, whether they be material gifts or gifts of the spirit. There is an abundance of gifts to be thankful for at any moment, though I recognize that in our 21st century world of schedules and calendars and tasks and appointments and 24-hour connectedness, it is easy to get moving so fast that I don’t see them. I try, but I’m not always successful.

I received a particularly special gift a few months ago. It is unique for many reasons: It is a one-of-a-kind piece of art that was created from recycled material; it was made specifically with me in mind; and it is both a material gift and a gift of the spirit. The gift sits on my desk, and I touch it every day. Or, more accurately, it touches me every day.

The gift is a box. I have this thing for boxes, I can’t explain it and I’m sure there are many armchair psychiatrists out there who will assign some Freudian meaning to my proclivity for collecting boxes. I’m not bound for an episode of “Hoarders”, I just have this thing for boxes. My office is full of them – boxes of varying sizes, the contents of each as varied as the boxes themselves. Some hold photos, some have cards and artwork from my children. Some hold old watches that I intend to wear once I replace the batteries in them. One box holds incense; another holds candles. I have a box that contains a few precious artifacts that were my brother’s before he died. There’s a box with little bits of nature I’ve collected that snared my attention – shells of certain shapes, stones of unusual colors, twigs and leaves and blooms dried but still charged with the memory of the time and place they were found.

The box on my desk was a gift from my sister. She is a very creative spirit, and I admire how she has unleashed the artist within her to create pieces of work that speak directly to the intended recipient. What’s more, she works with found objects – bits and pieces of random materials are collected and assembled to become something new and beautiful. It is quite literally one man’s trash becoming another man’s treasure.

My particular treasure apparently began life as a jewelry box, but in my sister’s hands it became something more. She removed an inner tray, exposing the felt lining inside, and after painting it a pleasing, masculine shade of blue, she glued a few seashells to the bottom. She affixed an image from a magazine showing an Asian-inspired drawing of waves on a tumultuous ocean, and added a bronzed sun ringed with orange-red fire. On the front of the box, where once was presumably a lock or a latch to hold it closed, she attached a metal disk that could have been a button or a coin from an extinct civilization – I don’t know what it is or where it came from. And she covered the lid with a piece from an old map of the Hawaiian islands – a stroke of inspiration that addressed my love of vintage travel posters and maps.

The box alone would have been a special gift that I would have loved and valued deeply. But the box contained another gift. They are known as “Angel Cards” – small rectangles of laminated paper, each with a single word printed on them. They are spirit words – pieces of vocabulary that invoke a sense of awareness, of purpose, of consciousness. In fact, those three words are in there: “awareness”, “purpose”, and “consciousness” are among dozens of words that are collected in this box. Words like “adventure”, “spontaneity”, “truth”, “light” – each one having a meaning and a power of its own. Each one intended to bring something special to mind – and to heart.

The idea is to draw one word from the box each day, and let that word do whatever it does to me. I could meditate on it, I could make the word a goal for my day, I could demonstrate the word in my actions – I am at choice in how I experience each word. So in the morning, I open the lid of the box and without looking, randomly pick a word. Actually, I pick three words each day. My little family consists of three people – myself, my son and my daughter, and so I choose a word for me, and two words for my kids. Three words. If Schoolhouse Rock taught me anything, it’s that three is a magic number. And there is definitely magic at hand here.

Yes, they are just words. But while words can never harm me (as per the “sticks and stones” chant), they certainly have the power to heal. Something happens each morning when I look at what I’ve drawn from the box. I’m reminded of something that I tend to forget. If I draw “tenderness”, for example, I’m reminded of the importance of a gentle heart with my kids, who are still young enough to be wounded by a thoughtless temper. If I draw “brotherhood”, I’m reminded that the men I encounter every day are all just like me, in varying stages of awareness. If I draw “synthesis”, I’m reminded – well, I gotta be honest, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with “synthesis”, that angel might be from a business college or something. But “play” – that one’s easy.

It might sound silly to say that there is magic in these words. Yet I cannot deny that when I see a word like “gratitude”, I think of what I have to be grateful for, and a change occurs – as if by magic. I see “understanding”, and I am reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his prayer to understand, rather than be understood – and a change occurs. I read a word, and a change occurs. Magically.

I may sound crazy to some – that’s okay. I know that there are many who, like me, see a word like “love” and feel a glow in their chest; who see “courage” and feel a hum in their belly; who see “freedom” and feel an urge to throw their arms wide and breathe deeply. Words have the power to make people feel. A word can change a person’s day – we encounter this regularly. See how a demeanor softens upon hearing the word “please”. Notice a smile on a person’s face upon hearing the word “thanks”. Look someone in the eye and see what they do upon hearing the word “beautiful”.

This box on my desk is one of my most treasured gifts – it is, quite literally, a gift of words. As we approach the holidays, we will be bombarded with ideas and messages about gifting. Businesses are all ready to use their calculated skills in getting people to spend money on their goods and services to give as presents to loved ones. Televisions will be full of “news stories” about the latest “must-have” toy or gadget for this year. Malls and department stores will be overrun with people in search of items to purchase for that special someone.

No, I’m not criticizing the commercialization of the holiday season or decrying the practice of shop-til-you-drop bargain hunting. I love the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season as much as the next person, maybe even more. I enjoy it all, even the crowds in the stores, for I feel a strange sense of unity and connectedness with them – we’re all there for the same basic reason, after all. But my invitation to readers is to consider the gifts that cost nothing. A smile, a gesture, and most easily, a word. As you navigate the chaotic paths of the upcoming holiday season, spread a little magic of your own.

It’s easy to do. Write a note, say a word. One word can speak volumes.