I am an English major.
I am an English major who wears many hats in my work and the various aspects of it, but most of them are colored by the fact that, as I mention yet again just before I step off a verbal cliff and fall into triple redundancy, I am an English major.
My wife married me anyway. She says that as a young lass she’d always thought she’d marry a preacher or a farmer. I’ve long wondered why a girl would dream of a life almost guaranteed to produce very modest financial gain. And to set those last four words in boldface type, she chose a preacher/English major. For a wise woman who is now a judge, this choice seems evidence of a serious lack of judgment, but I am eternally thankful for it.
I love words. I like working with them, choosing them, hunting them, bagging them, and lining them up. Except for working with foul and voracious deadlines always hounding, drooling hot-breathed down my neck, I like living a life where I write sermons, columns, essays, devotional magazine copy, and an occasional book. I write them, edit them, proofread them, stack them, lay them out in lines of print copy, design pages for them, and live with them. When words are not driving me crazy, eluding me, mocking me, and making my brain bleed, I am in awe of them, their friendship, and their magic.
I often wonder why so many people who seem bored or perplexed or tired don’t open a book and look for the words that will launch them into a great story, soul-growing refreshment, and even impart a little, or a lot, of wisdom. Such words are readily available. Yes, I know that it’s easy to fall into a cesspool of verbal sewage. Just as you can join very foolish people poisoning their souls with “music” boasting “explicit lyrics” and a nihilistic view of life leading, predictably, to despair, you can choose worthless and/or vile words. But you don’t have to. Music infused with beauty and joy is still available.
Likewise, many wonderful word-streams, sweetly teeming with life, still flow. Yet too often we blindly trudge on, heads down, eyes glued to the phones that own us. We are twits tweeting and texting on, parched with thirst, complaining that we live in a desert when water is everywhere; we are making such good time on the road to nowhere that we just won’t stop to drink.
Words, to change the metaphor, are a time machine to jail-break us from the tyranny of living always blinded by the foolishness of our own era; they are a highway to the wisdom of the ages. They are a view through the eyes of the most amazing people who have ever lived and whose innermost ideas still speak; we do well to listen.
But back to the earthly for a moment. Are you tired of this world? For heaven’s sake, then, why spend all of your time in it? Feeling locked up in, say, a funk or maybe the occasional pandemic? Pick the lock with a book! Go to Middle Earth, or Narnia, or any of a million marvelous places. Want to go to Mars? Why wait for NASA or for Elon Musk to build (as he will, I think) a starship that doesn’t explode? I’ve been to Mars many times with paper and ink or an e-book as the only launch vehicles. No astronaut training required. No English degree, either. Just the ability and desire to read and launch.
I do admit that English majors can be an eccentric lot. I have a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “The Oxford Comma: Fighting ambiguity, confusion, and bad grammar since 1853.” I love that shirt and feel deeply about its message. You, too, can order one. Amazon lists it under the sub-category “nerd shirts.” But how one handles commas used in words in a series matters. (Just do an internet search for “Oxford Comma.”)
English majors have strong feelings about such issues. I’m sure bar fights have ensued. The stakes are crucial: “Let’s eat Grandma” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma.” You see? Commas can save lives.
It is no accident that God’s Son himself is the Word incarnate and that the Father chose the written word as an amazing way to reveal to us his Son, his will, and his deep joy in his children and in all of his creation.
Yes, I love words. Most amazing, though, is that the Word loves us.
Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.