How important are words?

‘How can you, as an author, say that?’ he asked with more incredulity than I expected.

He was reacting to my happiness. I was celebrating him finding a life beyond words; beyond their regulatory oversight of his sense of being.

There had been a lot of words in his life; too many perhaps and not always good ones. And they had wielded power; placed him in a prison of sorts.

But now he was free from old formulations, especially when he’d go walking, when it was just him and nature.

There he found the freedom of life beyond words.

Now, like self-immolation, such talk may be unwise for an author. The writer should surely be promoting their words rather than undermining them!

After all, if you take away an author’s words, what is left?

But the answer is, (if I may be so bold): ‘In the best writing, quite a lot.’

The thing is, words are not an end in themselves; but a staircase to somewhere else. They are a staircase to somewhere they themselves cannot go.

Maybe some stairs take you to your office on the first floor; or maybe they take you down to a basement restaurant or club.

Maybe they take you up to your bedroom; or down to the boarding lounge at the airport.

The point is, when you reach where you want to go, you leave them. The stairs have done their job; fulfilled all that is asked of them.

Led Zeppelin sang about a stairway to heaven, which sounds a pretty fine set of stairs. But however fine they may be, when you get to heaven, you leave them because you have arrived.

It’s counter-intuitive perhaps, but the best words – whether poetry or prose, sermon or satire – demand that you leave them; that you put them down, because the words have taken you somewhere you must now explore alone.

And then it’s a fond farewell to the author; because it’s your story now.

Words work hard to shape reality; but in the end, reality has no shape; just the life arising in you, a life unbound and unfolding; a life quite beyond words.  

To return to Led Zeppelin, and the closing lines of the song:

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

Love the words…and leave them.