The quest for the perfect word

In New York this week, I spent time with a friend who had a stroke a few months ago. This woman is a lifelong dancer, voracious reader, talented writer, uninhibited artist, and deliciously garrulous conversation maker. It was hard to see her bright mind and vibrant spirit weighted with lymphedema and frustration. The formation of each word was an arduous task. She said people keep finishing her sentences for her because they can't bear to see her struggle, but she didn't want that because they didn't know the specific word she was grappling with. They might say "lucky," and she's the type to say "serendipitous." They might say "sky" where she would say "heavens."

I understand their discomfort in that situation, but I also understand the perfect specificity of vocabulary, the thrill of writing the right word. It can be a struggle to get our hands around it. It was good for me to be reminded how important it is to push through the impatience, wait for a rhythm and a meaning to form syllables, then find that winding path from the back of the brain to the tip of the fingers.

I watched my friend's eyes as she forged the word "serendipitous," and it made me think of a glassblower we saw in Gibraltar years ago. This effort was just as concerted and careful. The thing being formed was precious and imperiled to the very last moment. The crafting of it was a triumph that gave its beauty new meaning.


Beautiful post, Joni, and absolutely, the struggle and "wait time" for the perfect word make it all the more precious.

Wishing your friend the speediest of recoveries...
So very true. Great post.
Mylène said…
I have a friend dealing with aphasia right now . . it's heartbreaking. She will not get better; only worse. She looks to me to give her words she can't find. Precious, precise words.

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