An Introduction to the Word Hospice...
What’s in a word? Is it a mere act of pointing, or more to do with the way we shape or make sense of our experience? Or is it just possibly something in itself, the very sound or context of it suggestive of a particular relatedness to the world?
How often is it that a single word sounds in one’s mind with a resonance all its own? And who is it that hears such a word?
Words, the very things which appear to give us a ‘handle’ on the world, appear themselves to evade an easy grasp. Or are we missing the point? The deeper link surely is with our humanity. Whatever else language may be it is first and foremost a means of communication – and the act of communication implies the presence of another who is able to listen, read or in some way respond. Thus behind the question of language there is the deeper one of what it is to be present to another, whether actually or imaginatively.
The nearest we can get to experiencing what it would be like to be without language is perhaps in those rare moments of feeling ourselves utterly powerless or bereft on the one hand, or on the other hand those moments in which we feel so in tune and connected with others or with our environment that we have no need of it. And yet it is the need to share such moments which lies at the very foundation of language, our very wordlessness witnessing to the deeper significance of words.
Animals do not possess this gift, yet even a passing acquaintance with them is enough to make us aware that their lack in this regard does not in any way diminish that basic animating force – a rootedness in time, in space and in relation to other creatures in regard to which our scientific terminology falls flat but which our 'less enlightened' ancestors once knew as ‘spirit’.
So also the presence of a person is not reducible to their outward form, social status etc., but consists rather in that rootedness in the world, which for us is not ready-made but consists rather in its re-enactment, its articulation in word and gesture. It used to be said in the ancient world that on becoming a slave a person lost half their soul; they lost the right to speak or act of their own accord, they were there merely to be spoken to. Their presence remained unenacted.
A language without space for reciprocity is no language at all. Words are not mere tools, but part of the substance of who we are. They partake of us and we of them. They bespeak that more basic thing which for lack of a better word we may call ‘presence’: presence to ourselves, to each other and to the world we inhabit.
It is in the light of this need that the Word Hospice exists: we feel that words, the very things with which we often seek to nurture each other, may themselves be in need of nurture, and in nurturing words we can contribute to the ‘presence’ of human society as a whole.