Words. I love em. I like to read them, I like to speak them and I like to write them. Words are powerful tools and when put in the proper order they can make us laugh or cry. They can outrage us or soothe us. They can inspire us to do better or make us resentful. The spoken word is enhanced by the speakers tone or cadence, the delivery if you will, but the written word must stand alone to cause the reader to react in the manner intended by the author. Think about the powerful and effective speakers you have heard. President Obama, President Kennedy, Mario Como (former governor of New York), President Clinton, Martin Luther King and President Reagan. Those speakers could read a laundry list and get you excited. However, give the same laundry list to President Bush 1 or President Bush 2, Senator John Kerry, or Senator John McCain and they will put you to sleep.
However, the written word must express a message without the help of the skillful delivery of a speaker. The words themselves must tell the store, stir the emotion or paint the picture. Consider the following from President Reagan’s speech on the 40th anniversary of D Day. The words are as powerful when read as they were when they were spoken by President Reagan:
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your ``lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''
Bobby Kennedy was not a naturally gifted speaker, but his words carried the essence of conviction, the power of things that are right and the belief that ideas combined with actions can make a difference. His speeches were not delivered theatrically Like Reagan and Obama, but rather they were delivered simply as a one man speaks to his neighbor. Read his words from June 6, 1966 in Capetown, South Africa:
At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.
The first element of this individual liberty is the freedom of speech: the right to express and communicate ideas, to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest; to recall governments to their duties and obligations; above all, the right to affirm one's membership and allegiance to the body politic - to society - to the men with whom we share our land, our heritage, and our children's future.
Hand in hand with freedom of speech goes the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shape men's lives. Everything that makes man's life worthwhile - family, work, education, a place to rear one's children and a place to rest one's head - all this depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore, the essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer - not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people.
And even government by the consent of the governed, as in our own Constitution, must be limited in its power to act against its people; so that there may be no interference with the right to worship, or with the security of the home; no arbitrary imposition of pains or penalties by officials high or low; no restrictions on the freedom of men to seek education or work or opportunity of any kind, so that each man may become all he is capable of becoming.
I am a fan of writer Pat Conroy who has written such books as The Prince of Tides, Beach Music and South of Broad. Mr. Conroy is truly an artist with words. Here are few examples from his writings:
I did not yet have the interior resources to dream new dreams, I was far too busy mourning the death of the old ones and wondering how I was going to survive without them.
American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.
Walking the streets of Charleston in the late afternoons of August was like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk.
Her laughter was a shiny thing, like pewter flung high in the air.
Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.
It enclosed us in its laceries as we watched the moon spill across the Atlantic like wine from an overturned glass. With the light all around us, we felt secret in that moon-infused water like pearls forming in the soft tissues of oysters.
Then another porpoise broke the water and rolled toward us. A third and fourth porpoise neared. The visitation was something so rare and perfect that we knew by instinct not to speak—and then as quickly as they had come, the porpoises moved away from us…Each of us would remember that all during our lives. It was the purest moment of freedom and headlong exhilaration that I had ever felt. A wordless covenant was set, and I would go back in my imagination, and return to where happiness seemed so easy to touch.
The English language on her tongue became a smoke-screen, without her eyes changing expression in the least.
Memory in these incomparable streets, in mosaics of pain and sweetness, was clear to me now, a unity at last. I remembered small and unimportant things from the past: the whispers of roommates during thunderstorms, the smell of brass polish on my fingertips, the first swim at Folly Beach in April, lightning over the Atlantic, shelling oysters at Bowen's Island during a rare Carolina snowstorm, pigeons strutting across the graveyard at St. Philip's, lawyers moving out of their offices to lunch on Broad Street, the darkness of reveille on cold winter mornings, regattas, the flash of bagpipers' tartans passing in review, blue herons on the marshes, the pressure of the chinstrap on my shako, brotherhood, shad roe at Henry's, camellias floating above water in a porcelain bowl, the scowl of Mark Santoro, and brotherhood again.
I had come to Charleston as a young boy, a lonely visitor slouching through its well-tended streets, a young boy, lean and grassy, who grew fluent in his devotion and appreciation of that city's inestimable charm. I was a boy there and saw things through the eyes of a boy for the last time. The boy was dying and I wanted to leave him in the silent lanes South of Broad. I would leave him with no regrets except that I had not stopped to honor his passing. I had not thanked the boy for his capacity for astonishment, for curiosity, and for survival. I was indebted to that boy. I owed him my respect and my thanks. I owed him my remembrance of the lessons he learned so keenly and so ominously.
Even without hearing Mr. Conroy’s words spoken, in your own mind you can almost hear a soft southern accent in a slow cadence manner of speaking. You can almost feel southern heat and humidity in the air around you. His words leave an impact on you in a way that makes you see a picture and not merely read words on the page.
Next time you read words that stir your soul, read them a couple of times and appreciate the talent of the writer.
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