“The written word is the most powerful of tools and the most deadly of weapons.” –anonymous
I got turned on to writing when I was in the Army and discovered that I could put down a collection of words that someone else was interested in reading. My first story was an incoherent tale called “Why” that didn’t make any sense to anyone but me. It was two pages long and took me an hour to explain to those friends of mine who pretended to be interested.
No matter. I was hooked. From then on, I studied the masters of literature and dreamed of someday getting my words published in the mass media.
My parents and I disagreed over just about everything, but the one thing we never argued about was writing. In my house it was understood that writing was something special and you respected the person who could do it well.
The funny thing is that for three years I majored in physics in college, hoping to work in the space program. My parents could have cared less about it, though, and my mother complained constantly that she couldn’t spell the word “physics.”
My mother was super-critical of everything I did, but she never criticized my writing. She seemed to be in awe of my ability to string more than two sentences together without a grammatical error, and even took a course herself to learn to write.
I never realized the depth of her interest until after she died. I was going through her things and I came across a scrapbook she was working on. In it were stories and articles she had struggled to piece together over the years. Although they were riddled with grammatical errors and non-sequitors, they glowed with the excitement of someone feeling her way respectfully through a delicate art.
These were thoughts and stories of events that she could ever bring herself to tell me in person. Somehow, the act of writing released her from those restraints, as it does for many of us.
I suppose it is inevitable that, in an age of multimedia, web-TV and digital video, the simple act of writing would fade into the background of our collective consciousness. Yet, writing remains one of our most important means of communication. Everyone can and does write something, sometime, unless they are illiterate or have no hands. (Even then there’s still hope. A recent headline from the National Enquirer, if one can believe that rag, reads: “Handwriting contest won by man with no arms.”)
If we choose to ignore our writing skills we do so at our own peril. Written communications have saved lives, won battles and changed the course of history.
Some books such as the Bible have been around for thousands of years. They contain the collected wisdom of the ages, of the people who built our civilization into what it is today.
Writing has lost none of its power in the face of glitzier media. But then, I assume you already know this since you are reading a newspaper, something that fewer and fewer people are doing, if the surveys are to be believed.
All those non-readers may learn one day what it took Napoleon a lifetime to discover: The pen is mightier than the sword.
He found out the hard way. I hope we don’t have to.