The Limits of Words

A pop lyric has been rolling around in my mind this past week -

"What do you say when words are not enough?"

I looked it up and won't be going any further with what song it is; it's not exactly the kind you'd readily confess to thinking about!

The reason it's been echoing in the halls of my thoughts is that I was honoured to be asked to open an exhibition commemorating the outbreak of the First World War in the Devon village of Woodbury on Monday - 

WW1 exhibition.JPG

Two unusual occurences in one picture - I can look just about passably smart somedays, and it was the first time I can recall wearing a poppy outside of the Remembrance weeks. I'm not quite sure why I put it on, it just felt right.

But back to the point of this blog, which was how hopelessly inadequate words can be, even for those of us who are lucky enough to work with them every day.

I had to speak for just a couple of minutes, and boy did I struggle with working on what to say. The village lost 40 men in the First World War, a large part of its population, and how do you find the words to recognise such sacrifice?

Another quotation has been rattling around the brain this week, and it's a resonant one -

"Words strain / Crack and sometimes break, under the burden..." (TS Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton)

That's how it felt. No matter how many thoughts I wrote down, ideas of things to say, I ended up crossing them out again as utterly insufficient.

But in the end, I realised there was only a single solution. And it was a simple one, as they so often are -

Just let the facts speak for themselves, and leave people the space to feel their impact.

So that was what I did; 40 men gone, a generation of a community wiped out.

And I think - perhaps mean I hope? - that it was adequate; both for those we lost, so many years ago, and for the audience.

Because the pats on the shoulder as I left the hall meant a very great deal indeed, as did the misty eyes - not least my own...