Tuesday, February 1, 2011

XOXO... Gossip Girl: American Sign Language and that Bad Habit We Never Discuss

So it's late on a Saturday night, a quiet one, a sitting-in-my-pajamas-and-eating-popcorn-with-honey Saturday night. And I'm watching "Gossip Girl" - the "scandalous look into the fabulous lives of Manhattan's elite..." And I suddenly remember this lingering blog post about gossip, about words, about their power and their meaning and I thought perhaps today might be a good day to dive back in and finish it. 

Yesterday morning, my sunshine yellow hat and I got ourselves on the 7:55 bus to DuPont Circle, the bus with my favorite bus driver (he calls out 'Union Station,' 'DC Courts,' and 'Metro Center' in the best possible voice), and I began my morning ASL lesson.

The lesson is mostly me sitting in my bus seat with my blue Signing Illustrated book propped open on my lap, my hands awkwardly trying to make the signs for "horse" or "establish" or "corn" or "reason." I love sign language more and more with every day. I carry my book in my bag and read it during lunch or on the Metro or even just in the lobby of fancy DC buildings (like the beautiful Heritage Foundation lobby that has these fake flowers that ALWAYS trick me into thinking they're real).

Yesterday on the bus, as we neared 13th and K Sts, I turned the page in the "Emotions and Abstract Ideas" I came across the sign for "gossip." I was taken aback. Why was the sign for gossip in my book, showing up that morning? I learned it. I took it in and tried to understand why it was being signed to me from the crisp white pages of Signing Illustrated. Why this morning, with its sweet November sunshine (the kind of sunshine that just seems to scream for tea with honey and an afternoon to sit in Lincoln Park and just breathe in the promises of fall)? Why am I thinking about how to create this word with my hands, make it tangible and felt in the world?

I tried to move on quickly, skimming over that word and into the more comfortable territory of "smart" and "feeling." But the sign repeated itself as I teetered through the marble lobby, showed up on my lunch hour while I sat with my coworker and thinking about the power of information about other people - the power that we seek in having information about other people. It even showed up on the bus ride home after a long day of glazed eyes and demography numbers in the Pacific Islands. I might have wanted to ignore it, might have wanted to pretend there wasn't anything to it and that, of course, like everything, it was just a passing thought through my whizzing brain and like so much else it would be gone tomorrow.

And beyond my interest at its staying power (why do some thoughts linger and others fade?) I feel more and more convinced that I am supposed to be paying attention to something in this sign for "gossip."

...And now it is January 31, the last day of the first month of a new year. It is January 31, weeks and weeks after the beginning of this blog post. I have journeyed through leaving a place I love and through that wonderful land of Italy, and have finally returned to here, to that nebulous place of the present, where I am asked to pay more attention, be more aware, live fuller and fully. And I want to bring this idea about gossiping, and our words, into this present.

Friends, our words are immensely powerful. Perhaps we forget they are powerful because we think we aren't powerful. We aren't dressed in the suits, carrying the briefcases full of legal jargon. We aren't in front of a microphone. We just whisper, whisper the "did you hear?" and the "I just found out that..." and the "Can you believe" so soft who can hear us, just to one small person, powerless like us.

We leak the secrets from our lips like faucets that won't stop dripping.

Don't tell anyone else, okay? We say it quiet, that preface of powerlessness that keeps it safe, that drip, drip, drip of the precious things we've been told, the things we've seen and observed. And we make words about these things, cup our hands and in muffled laughter and low voices we are powerfully, awfully destructive. 

When we gossip, when we move our mouths without our hearts engaged, we make the worst kind of meaning, tell the stories that are anything but gratitude, anything but joy. We may be gleeful when we talk, but it's glee at your expense. 

Why do we do this to each other? I want to scream. Why do we choose that kind of power? But rather than dwell on this bad habit, on the hiss of words that hurt, I want to challenge and encourage us. 

What if, instead, we spoke the love words? What if we held out our hands, grabbed another person's, and whispered, "Did you hear - today, God is good?" What if we answered the seemingly benign question about another person with a simpler truth: "Between you and me,  today I thought of you, and I smiled and gave thanks." We have the power to shower the world with loving words, with a power and a life all their own. We don't have to choose the destructive words. We could lavish loving words, challenging, truth-filled words, joyful words on each other. 

Pour out the love words today. Pour out the joy words. Pour out the words that warm the spirit and comfort the weary eyes. Pour out the words that leave us breathless, fill your house with them, pour them over all those people that you haven't loved because it's hard. Pour out love words on them because they are true and they are kind and they are good. And though we will wobble, and fall, let's speak love today. 

Love to you, from the whole of my heart, 


  1. Hi Hilary, found you from the Gypsy Mama. Wish I'd found you sooner, because my hubs and I just moved from GCTS down the road to England, and I would have loved to know you in person. Anyways, wanted to say, keep up the writing! This post is so richly true.

  2. Hi Betsy!

    So nice to meet you. I love the Gypsy Mama - such good words and such true ones, too. Welcome to this world of blogging - I wish I had known you in person too!

  3. Hi! I stumbled upon your blog and I love it. I love reading blogs of women that are older (and definitely wiser than me!) but I'm excited to read this blog, by another twenty something girl! Your point about words is a big deal. Sometimes I feel whenever a group of girls get together, even girls who LOVE Jesus, the tendency is to gossip or to tiptoe around it, if you know what I mean. Earlier this year I wrote about this issue, in a roundabout way, http://walkingonh20.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/978/. No pressure to read, just thought you may be interested. I look forward to reading more!



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