Those who know me now might not think so, but I was a very quiet little girl. I decided when I was four or five years old, I would try to avoid talking as much as possible because I knew that everyone who was born was allowed a certain number of words to say in a lifetime. When we had used our limit, then we would die.
The preacher at our little tablernacle, Sister Margie, had said so in one of her sermons. She declared from the lectern in her dramatic speaking voice that came from deep in her belly that we were all going to die, though no one knew the day or the hour. She went on to say in a voice so loud and resonant that the rafters seemed to sing the words back to us. Every breath we took . . . Every hair on our heads . . . Every word we uttered with our mouths . . . and so on . . . God himself counted every single one.
Somehow the part that stuck in my mind was the phrase “every word we uttered.” It was the one that stuck and echoed inside me. Years later as I looked back on this time in my life, I figured out a reasonable explanation for my childish interpretation of that sermon about death.
Around this time, the teenage sister of a classmate from school died in the back seat of the family car as they were rushing her to the hospital. We children were discussing it at school recess the next day. Another child close to the family described in lurid detail the scene of the young girl lying bleeding in the back seat of the family car as they rushed to the city.
Somehow, in my young mind, it had become a simple matter of mathematics. I didn’t know that young girl well enough to know whether she had been a chatty sort, but it was clear that she had spoken all her allotted words so it was time for her to die.
Why then did some people die old and wrinkled while others died too young? Still others, babies, were born and died without having talked at all. That was a riddle I had a hard time figuring out. Then I decided that God must have changed his mind and decided to take all the words back and give them to someone else. He was the decider, after all, long before George Bush junior came along and got the idea.
That helped explain to me, then, why some people died old, and why some people died young. God simply took the words that babies had never uttered, for instance, and gave them away to his favorite old people. No other reasons made any sense.
So whatever number of words were allotted to me, I naturally decided to stetch them out to last for as long as I could. “She’s shy,” my parents explained, while I hid deeper and deeper into the folds of my mother’s dress. I didn’t know what shy meant, but I did know why I wasn’t talking, and I wasn’t about to tell.
I did sing from time to time. The deal always was, I would sing IF I could sit in the dining room with the wall separating me from the grownups in Grandma’s parlor on Sundays, and they would have to pay me a nickel.
My repertoire at the time was quite limited. “Home Sweet Home,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “What Are You Going to Do When the World’s on Fire?” (That last song was made up for me by my father, and the last line was “run like the devil and holler FIRE!”) As you might imagine, this was the most requested song, but for the right combination of change, or for a quarter, I’d sing them all (and I might throw in my favorite poem, Fuzzy Wuzzy). Maybe God allowed extra words for people who sang. I’m not sure how long this little drama played out, but I emerged from it a very quiet girl until many years later.
Now, as I am nearing a “blogger’s milestone” of close to 100 posts in a blog not yet a year old, I think about the number of words I’m sending into the blogosphere. Some of my posts are quite long, and frankly I’m getting a little worried. What do you suppose will happen when/if I finally run out of words?