Pause. “What’s the word?” Pause. My AP Seminar teacher struggles, for a split second, to phrase something- to pinpoint a precise word in the sea of English, searching for a single utterance that would harpoon a fleeting thought and drag it to the audience. The word evades his searching tongue, and for a passing moment that barely grazes the class’s memory, his eyes are distant, lost in an opinion that refuses to shape itself into the concrete of language.
These moments are riddled with frustration.
For every person, the world was once a whirling mess of incoherent stimulation. Sights and sounds did not have labels, nor categories. People no relations. Joy was a simple, inexplicable gold, and frustration just a raw stuffiness. Everything translated into tears. A chaotic, overwhelming, nonsensical, unalloyed, and endlessly amusing time of exquisite purity.
But from the moment the baby exits the womb, the light begins to diminish, and the world begins to welcome her as a part of it, the nation as a citizen, and the family as a daughter. It is a gradual and yet impossibly rapid process- of pebbles lining up, of colors naming themselves and giving proportioned births, of family trees and identically tied knots. And despite the incredible speed at which the universe attempts to realize itself in a barely mundane mind, the baby somehow follows in her stuttering footsteps. By the time the girl is no longer a child, and has inescapably become a part of humanity’s elaborately constructed systems and its dozens of institutions, she can no longer feel things as they are, for everything has given itself a name.
A poet once said, “when the very first word was written down, something must have been lost”. Ironic, coming from a wordsmith. But there is a strange truth to it. I am now blind to what words cannot describe, for everything that language eludes now eludes my mind and I cannot make sense of it, nor do I have the motivation to bring my mind to hold onto a concept that I cannot hear and craft and touch with a human tongue. In the way that an oddity soon assimilates into a group that would most acceptably adopt it, something indescribable is soon given a word that most closely approximates it.
But for certain microscopic moments in our infinitely segmented lives- moments that can amorphously be measured in seconds or minutes (or not)- we are lost in the midst of a conversation, searching for the right word. And for a split second, the mind returns to purity, in the lacunae between written denotations, a short escape stolen from the all-consuming cabinets of life and the labeled adhesives that decorate every nook and cranny of our vision. A fleeting flicker of a flight back to purity- back to infancy.
The world as experienced through language is incredibly beautiful, just short of being infinitely so. The diversity of expression is impossible to fathom, and the fingers of language wield a powerful sorcery, capable of forming, expanding, diminishing, decorating, and heightening the universe, proof that every situation and story and truth is elastic. But it only just fails to touch infinity because it does not encompass those mercurial moments that elude the dictionary, too few and too forgettable. The moment of opacity and incoherence during which one cannot match a word to a sensation is, thus, the temporary emancipation of the human mind. A brief, transcendent perfection.