We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.” What lies we tell with the words we speak. Every word we utter has the potential for harm or good and likely has more depth than we ever imagined. What’s in a word? Only everything!
As a little girl, my daughter frequently made up words in instances where she wasn’t quite sure what was being said. For example, she called the rescue squad a rescue “squat” and once, on the rare occasion she was doing chores, she asked her dad to come and “expect” rather than inspect her work. While all of her word substitutions were cute, the one that sticks out the most was when she saw a friend of ours transporting folks to the retirement home and she said, “Oh, he’s driving them to the ‘reunion’ home, isn’t he?” in a purely literary sense, these two terms are exact opposites in meaning. To retire is to retreat, to withdraw, to separate, while reunion, or to reunite, means to connect, to combine, to join. If, however, we “expect” these words a little more closely, we might find they’re not so contrary after all. For a reunion to be possible there must be many retirements.
Throughout the course of life, we have many opportunities to retire, or retreat. We retire daily when we go to sleep at night for a brief respite from the day. We retire from the hectic routines of life when we go away on vacation in order to refresh and rejuvenate. We retire when we take a moment to step away from an assignment so as to take a breather or get a fresh perspective. We retire when we give up in an argument and yield to our debating counterpart. We retire when we resign from a career in search of greater horizons. We retire when we take our last breath on this earth and take whatever journey lies ahead, beyond the here and now.
So what exactly is the connection between retirement and reunion? Each evening I retire to my room for a good night’s sleep only to wake in the morning and reunite with those I love. Three to four weeks out of the year I retire from the numerous tasks and duties that define my life so that I might reunite with those things that matter most – living fully, laughing heartily, and loving passionately. I often retire from my writing in order to overcome “writer’s block” or work through a complex thought process, a retirement that generally reunites my thoughts with experiences and the words necessary to express them on paper. On rare occasions, I retire from an argument so that I can be reunited in a meaningful way with my competitor, a reunion that adds depth to the relationship. I’ve retired from different career positions so that I could be reunited with aspirations long forgotten or abandoned because of life circumstances. My hope is that my final retirement is a long time in coming, but when that day arrives, I trust I will reunite with loved ones who have already taken that journey.
Whether we speak of love and hate, right and wrong, simplicities and complexities, or retirements and reunions, there resides in a single word great depth of content and meaning. Little did my daughter know that a simple “misspoken” word could yield so much meaning. As I retire this article, I ask again: What’s in a word? Only everything!
Published in The Oyster Pointer