Words. The dictionary describes words as a "unit of language spoken or written, a principal carrier of meaning."
It's amazing how words can affect our lives. Words can soothe and words can reassure. Words of support or praise can stay with us a lifetime. Hurtful words can influence us just as long.
Words can be written or spoken. Words can be sung. Words can be shouted. They can even be expressed through sign language. But nothing grabs your attention like words that are whispered. They can be tender words of love or they can be desperate words of pain, loss or agony.
It is an honor to be described as a "person of their word." Most of us strive to be as good as our word, but there are times we find we may have to "eat our words."
Some are described as "a person of few words." But they should never be confused with someone who is "wordless." For if a person of few words speaks, people usually listen. And if such a person "puts in a good word" for you, that testimonial is as good a gold.
Words can be used to record history or to change history. They can spread facts and they can spread rumor. Words, whether written or spoken, can never be taken back. A few have not heeded the caution to "weigh one's words" and their words have forever changed their future.
Words can provoke thought and debate. While words can incite riot and unrest, words can also build the road to understanding.
Words can be used to fan the flames of a budding romance or douse the struggling embers of a dying relationship. Words can announce the birth of a new life or the end of an old one.
It's no secret that men and women use words to communicate differently. That does not mean that there is a right way or wrong way to communicate. Instead, learning to accept the difference is the key to better understanding.
Watching a baby's communication skills grow and develop is the most fascinating of all. They begin by watching the face of their parents. Soon they learn to return the smile given to them. After a while, they learn to imitate sounds, then actual words. Like a sponge, they absorb everything. I've been reminded of this process as I've watched my granddaughter grow.
Although my son and his family live so far away, I've been fortunate enough to be able to visit Haylee every few months. Each time I see her, I notice the obvious changes in her ability to communicate. The first time, she had mastered smiles and cooing. The next time, she made noises that imitated speech patterns which she combined with that baby sign language of pointing and waving bye-bye. Her most recent visit to our home showed a huge leap in the learning curve - real language skills.
At 18 months she can, with the use of a single word, make her needs known. Milk, eat, da-da (her word for her blanket) and Elmo seem to be her favorite. She's beginning to use some two and three word sentences. Her refrain "Do it again?" was uttered a lot when jumping into my arms in the pool or after reading a book to her.
She's mastered Mama and Daddy. She calls my husband Papa and she even knows to call our dog Buddy. But, when it came to calling me Mimi, she got confused. Despite being coached, Mimi usually came out Mommy. And then she began calling her aunts mommy, too. I have to admit that I began to feel a little sad that despite her obvious attachment to me, she couldn't call me by name.
After a completely enjoyable 10 days, it came time to take Haylee and her daddy to the airport. While my son and husband unloaded bags from the back of the car, I opened the door to unbuckle Haylee from her car seat.
"Hi, Mimi!" Haylee squealed.
Those were the sweetest words I've ever heard. And the echo of her words comforted me as I tearfully watched them pass through security and make their way to their gate for their departing flight home.
Yes, there are some words that stay with us a lifetime. They frame a moment and that moment gets tucked away in our hearts. And there they remain forever.
Theresa Larson is the administration manager and bi-weekly columnist for the Lodi News-Sentinel.