Friday, May 31, 2013

Words for the Future

"A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day." --Emily Dickinson

I came across a touching story a few days ago, seventy years in the making. Did you hear about 90-year old Laura Mae, from Indiana? She recently visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, this past April.

Not too noteworthy--until you imagine yourself in her place. You're there to see a display commemorating a young Marine who had been your high-school sweetheart. You know the display is there, you donated photographs and the class ring that Corporal Thomas Jones had given you before he left for the service and was subsequently killed in the South Pacific, in 1944. What you don't know is that you're going to see your first love's diary on display, opened to a page with your name on it.

As Laura Mae said (see full article, High School Sweetheart Finds Diary of WWII Marine in Museum 70 Years Laterhere), "I figured I'd see pictures of him and the fellows he'd served with and articles about where he served...I didn't have any idea there was a diary in there."

The article carries an AP photograph of a two-page spread of the diary:

October 2
Dear Diary, 
     Sat. night and I'm staying in...
     Wish Laura Mae was out here so I could see her. Darn I miss her...Tommy

October 4
Dear Diary, 
     Am I happy. I got a letter from Laura Mae and she said she loves me. Yippee... Tommy.

Can you imagine? How would you react? How would you feel?

For Laura Mae, the words brought tears to her eyes.

The article made me think about the words that we write, words we speak, the importance of today's words that might possibly touch someone tomorrow--even seventy years down the road. I know I have poems my grandmother wrote, speaking of her love for my grandfather, that are special to me. I have books on my shelf that are over seventy years old that still inspire and are worth re-reading.

I don't pretend that my words will endure so far down the road, but the whole idea about the power of words is reinforced by stories such as these.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) expressed it this way: "Words--so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."

What do you think? Do words take on a life of their own? Have you ever chanced on an unexpected word from the past that had special meaning to you? How has someone's words from several generations ago touched or surprised you?


  1. I'm so glad you posted about that story. How incredibly powerful, to read those words from the past, to have them whisper at her from behind glass and bring alive a time in her life that probably seems so very close and far all at once. Words really do have such power. The right ones can bring a memory alive and break your heart so beautifully. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Thank you, Jess--you are so right about words bringing memories alive. I was touched by this story, too, and can only imagine how those 70 years must have melted away in this dear woman's mind as she read the pages in that diary. What a neat discovery...

  3. Wow, what a great, if tragic, American story. I don't have access to any diaries except my own. A few years back, I was reading a diary from 15 or so years prior to that, when I was going through some struggles, and was surprised, and sorry, to experience the words of a woman who was so imprisoned within her situation, but especially within her personality. Thankfully, I am not that woman anymore.

    1. Cathy, keeping record of our journeys can be interesting, can't it? I haven't read through my old journals lately, but I hope if I did I'd find evidence that I've changed, too!

  4. I did see Laura Mae's story on the news. It reminded me of the Titanic movie from a few years back. Very touching.

    My sister (who is a journalist) interviewed my paternal grandmother and chronicled her life history as a 90th birthday present. We all bought copies. The book is filled with bits of history, including parts that I knew, as well as episodes that were new to me. Sometimes, reading it takes me right back to my childhood, which is far longer ago than I care to admit. :)

    I agree about the power of words. So often, I'll hear a news report and know immediately whether the reporter is a Democrat or a Republican - a liberal or a conservative, if you will - simply by the choice of words. Guess that's the "power of the pen" in oral form.

    1. Peggy, I bet your grandmother's story is a treasure. I love these kinds of things. And then makes you wonder what our grandkids will remember about us :-)

      Another example of the power of words: how we speak to children. Now there's another subject!

  5. What a neat story. Often I think about the unknown power of our words...both those spoken and those written.

  6. This is a sweet and lovely story. Had I been in Laura Mae's place, I might have been crying the whole way through! :) I'm with you, words do have such an impact, and they are a good way to carry and share memories.

    My aunt sent me a bundle of letters she'd found after my grandmother's death in 2003. They were letters written between my grandmother and grandfather when he was in the military and my Mom was a baby. It was interesting and touching to see a different side of my grandparents. I will treasure the letters and pass them on to my daughter someday.