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  • Karin Shimoo

The Limits and Possibilities of Words

“The Day I was Humbled”

All 50 hiragana letters ran a full marathon.

"ひ" jumps with its roundness,

and “い” walks gracefully on its two legs.

Unusually, "ん” has joined too.

I am the marathon organizer.

Who will reach the goal first?

My excitement gets bigger and bigger.

In the end, all participants retire.

No one reaches the goal.

I put away the goal tape.

In this era, where messages fly by at the speed of a second, I feel like I don't have much time to think carefully about each word choice.

Instantly! I have to reply! Now!

In this day and age, where such things are required, the words we choose carelessly out of impatience may hurt the person on the other side of the screen. While thinking about what I want to say, I sometimes feel uneasy about whether my message will be conveyed.

“Hmm, their response time is slow… Did I say something wrong??”

“Err, does this translate what I want to say ??… argh maybe I’ll do this later?”

“Oh my God, it’s been two days.”

I've always had the confidence to write something, but at times like this, the limits of my own words put a dent in my pride.

Changing the subject, my beloved grandmother passed away the other day. Throughout her life, she taught me "the possibilities of words." She sent me a letter on my birthday and every time I moved up a grade. In the letters I received from her, the alphabet was smooth and flowed gracefully. It was a letter that made me feel like I was invited to an alphabet dance party. When I traced the flowing alphabet with my finger, I could see the image of her working hard to write the letter and her smiling face.

And my grandmother was a poet. Her poems were repeatedly selected for the poetry section of local newspapers, and she carefully wrapped newspaper clippings in an envelope and gave them to me. When I was young, I didn't know what she did this for. But now, I can imagine that through the poems she wrote, she was trying to tell me about the beauties of the world that caught her eye.

The streets of London preparing to welcome autumn.

A bitterly cold November wind. Silent snow.

The majestic mountains of Northwestern Japan. New Year's oranges.

And the spring wind that appears, holding hands with the morning sunshine.

My grandmother had gently picked up the parts of her surroundings, little sparkles hidden in the corners of everyday life, that she finds dear, one by one, and made them her own jewels.

When I'm exhausted from my busy life, I always go back to the pile of letters my grandmother wrote me. Buried in the words she left behind, I feel a sense of easiness in my heart that makes me wonder why I spent such a painful day. My grandmother on the other side of the letter is writing a letter with a lot of fun. Even though she passed away, she still gives me energy, so I think words have great potential.

Receiving a letter or message from anyone is a simple joy: even small reports of mundane daily life. It may sound obvious, but when you try to actually be the sender of messages, you find it surprisingly difficult. Worn out by the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often don’t have the energy or time or perhaps care to choose our words with a lot of thought. As a result, a big misunderstanding between the intention and the delivery of words is born. Or, even thinking about such things becomes tiresome and eventually, nothing is left but silence. It's fine as long as no one notices these misunderstandings, but repeated small misunderstandings may eventually become great rifts between you and someone important to you.

In my own life, I want to make the most of the possibilities of the words my grandmother taught me. When you tell someone something with written words, it stays for a long time. That's why I want to think carefully about whether or not the true message I want to convey will be conveyed. Of course, there may be a limited amount of time in our busy lives when such luxury is allowed. However, I think it's worth the time since your choice of words can make someone's day better or worse. Like my grandmother, I cherish writing letters and reading books as a hobby, so I try to incorporate as much time as possible into my life to exchange and learn languages. By expanding my vocabulary and absorbing various writing styles, I feel that someday I will be able to convey "This is exactly what I think!" in a letter. A ball with a clear trajectory is easier for you to catch than a ball whose destination cannot be seen.

Nowadays, business emails are constructed from pre-made templates. The bags of postal delivery workers who carry New Year's cards are getting lighter year by year, and "thank you" is conveyed with stickers on message apps. I worry that we’ll find ourselves struggling at the limit of our own words more often. There may come a time when words lose their meaning, like in a dystopian novel when conversations cease and silence sets in. In an era where instant communication and efficient information are valued, I think it's important to choose your words carefully from time to time and make time to exchange written words in a way that reaches the other person properly.

Translated by Naomi Koizumi and Rio Ishida

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphic by Momoka Ando


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