My earliest recollection of childhood joy and contentment was reading a cherished book by the fireside. There was something magical about words, something powerful and wonderful about the way they could captivate my imagination, rouse my deepest emotions and cause my spirit to soar. I had a passion for books that I could not explain, a passion that made me haunt libraries and dusty, old bookshops. Sometimes I would find myself wandering past the rows and rows of towering book shelves in terrified awe and silent reverence for the vast amount of knowledge represented there; sometimes I would sit quietly amongst the books as if they were my dearest friends.
As I grew older, my passion for books focused into a passion for the words themselves. Therein, I soon discovered, lay the magic of books. Words were their very soul. But the power did not lie in the random use of words, but the careful melding together of just the right words to weave the dream. I marveled at how words could fill my mind with imagery, touch my soul with profundity, move my heart with poetic beauty, encourage my spirit to dream great dreams, relieve the tedium of life with fantastical illusions or shatter delusions with stark reality. But there was still more to learn.
As my eyes were opened, as my intellect was broadened, as my heart was nurtured from my association with books, I began to see that, just as words were the soul of the book, the human heart was the soul of words. It was then that I realized that the written word was a powerful tool–much more powerful than merely arousing a sense of wonder in a child. Words not only created imaginary worlds, but they also exposed reality. Because they were an instrument of communication from human heart to human heart, they had been used to cause revolutions, govern societies and establish religious, philosophical and social institutions. They built up and tore down societies, instigated war or brought peace, confused or dispelled confusion and advanced the arts and sciences.
Books affected me in profound ways because they stirred up my conscience, sharpened my discernment, chastised my apathy and challenged my ethical and religious beliefs. They altered my philosophical and scientific understanding of the world around me. Now, I could comprehend the meaning of suffering, pathos, degradation, fear, loneliness, alienation and hate as well as love, redemption, forgiveness and hope. Books were the mirror through which I could view the sometimes gentle, sometimes violent veneer between illusion and reality, genius and madness, damnation and deliverance, cruelty and mercy, and all of the nuances in between that make us human. As a child, words taught me to dream; as an adult, they taught me to see, to think and to weep.
Some say that words themselves do not have power; they are just symbols on paper without the human mind, heart and soul to give them worth and meaning. I believe that words have power to hurt or to heal—and to ultimately save us. I believe in the power of words because, deep inside, I am still the child who marvels at their magic.