Big Words

I just heard a story about an incident that happened in my church many, many years ago. A woman had come to church distressed because news of an incident of child molestation had rocked the town. She stood up and asked how could God allow such things to happen. The priest at the time responded that we all have to weather the vicissitudes of life. The woman telling me the story had to ask her mother after church what the word meant. Her mother told her that the word meant the ups and downs of life. Maybe child molestation isn’t a vicissitude, it is more like a tragedy.

Big words cast big shadows in which we can hide a lot of pain. So do platitudes, euphemisms and clichés. Sometimes I think that this is precisely the purpose of platitudes, euphemisms and clichés. Asking why may answer emotional needs for a time, but can sometimes serve as an excuse not to act. Harvey and Irma happened. Jose is circling out in the Atlantic, making people nervous. Nobody is to blame for hurricanes. In the real world there is a lot of real, heavy, life-altering pain. The question is not always how to avoid it, and not merely how to endure, but how to let it hold a mirror up before my soul and teach me wisdom and compassion.

Big words like “community,” “accompany,” and “share” don’t cast a shadow.


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