All around me are people, squished and squeezed and packed in tightly, seat by seat, row by row, waiting for takeoff.

The woman next to me looks so lost, like she’s frightened a bit and just wishing the trip was over. It seems she knows no English, and I am struck by how my own experience these last days in Lebanon helps me to empathize with her. To be alone in a sea of incomprehensible words, unable to read the signs and instructions around you, to be forced to rely only on the most basic of grunts and gestures – that is a frightening thing in any culture.

I am realizing more and more that language not only helps us communicate with others, but also helps us know our place in the world. Safety, security, stability, all these needs are bound up in the words around us and within us. Without the right language, the right words, we are lonely lifeboats adrift on a sea of uncertainty.

For many of us, this disconnectedness comes upon us not because we find ourselves without a language to link us with our world, but because the words on the wire have no life in them. Critical, angry, discouraging words may come to us in a language we understand, but they serve only to sever our ties with humanity and ourselves, leaving us as isolated and alone as a woman with no English on a plane bound for America.

O be careful little mouths what you say…

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” – Proverbs 18:21a