November 10, 2012

Do Words Fly Away? by Sharon Espeseth

"Scripta manent," our elderly friend, Father Croteau, recently said to me for no apparent reason. My Latin rusty, I asked what this meant.

"Words remain," he replied.

Father C. wrote the expression down so I could google it later. I set his hand-written note on my pile of jottings for further investigation.

The full phrase, "Verba volant, scripta manent," I discovered, means "Spoken words fly away, written words remain." This proverb is attributed to Caio Titus, a past Roman orator. But what does this have to do with me? I wondered.

In the same pile of jotted ideas was my published story about losing an almost-full journal. Under the heading, "Three months of life in lost journal," the Edmonton Journal ran my story ten years ago when my loss was fresh. I had recently converted my journal writing from the “burn-them-when I’m gone” status to “treasures I want to keep”

In my article, I wrote passionately about my loss, and my readers responded with empathy. Although I appreciated their understanding, my chronicles didn’t reappear.

All I could do was buy a new journal and continue recording my thoughts, experiences, and concerns. My journal was still willing to listen to me, even though I had let a past volume slip through my fingers.

For my November blog in, I planned to revisit this episode, hoping the marvelous vision of hindsight would add new perspective. New reflection, however, didn’t come up with anything good to say about my misfortune and I still found no reason to be thankful about it.

I still can’t recall what I had written; nor can I replicate the book in any way. Again, I let released the book like a child releasing a helium balloon, even though it contradicts the principal of the written word remaining.

Close to the due date for my Inscribe blog, I clipped Father's proverb to the front of the file about my journal and went to bed. What was the connection between my missing journal and Father Croteau's phrase offered without context or meaning at the time?

The next morning, I awoke with the thought that the act of analyzing and putting my thoughts down on paper still has value. These words do remain in my heart and mind. They may have physically flown, but they are a part of me. Writing clarifies my thinking. Writing teaches me about life and about faith.

A biblical story from John’s Gospel came to me. The Pharisees and religious scholars dragged an adulterous woman before Jesus to see what he would say to, or about, her. Recognizing the potential trap, these learned men had set for him, Jesus said, "If any of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone." Then he bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.

Recording this story, John doesn't say what Jesus wrote or why he wrote in the loose dirt. I picture the ground being sandy. Jesus knew the waves would wash over the writing and people would walk over the words. Materially the words would be gone, but the story was recorded and the woman was forgiven.

While Jesus wrote, the crowd dispersed and Jesus was alone with the woman. No one had condemned her. "Go and leave your life of sin," Jesus told her. Those forgiving words would remain. So do the words I wrote in my journal and the story I wrote in the "Voices" column of the Edmonton daily. What seems gone still exists.

I wrote. Scripta manent.


  1. Sharon, I so enjoyed your posting. I feel your heart in it...and can totally understand how you must have felt when that journal went missing.

    "Words remain." What power in those two small words. And what hope too.

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words. I agree that "Words remain" is a powerful phrase.

  3. Sharon, I love all the layers of this post! So much to mull over, about why things happen, and how to make the most of them. Keep writing (even if some of your words go missing for a while)!

  4. Sometimes I imagine my journal on someone's mantel or in a bookshelf--kept as one of the curiosities of life.
    I still write what my friend calls "acid-free" comments in my acid-free journals. Thanks for the comment, Violet.

  5. Fascinating experience and such an interesting post. I had a similar experience with photographing some gorgeous scenery of a spot where I was never planning to return, and finding that the film in my camera had not advanced all day. I nearly sobbed! But it was a good lesson at what is really important in life, and it also turned out that I've been able to revisit that place several times. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. What a great blog! My great grandmother's diary dates back to 1910. Today, over one hundred years later, the words she wrote are inspiring, another evidence of the importance of the written word. It should make us write carefully knowing that one hundred years from now our written words may be read again too.


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