Words to Live By

People like quotations and mottoes. If you Google almost any emotional or heavy subject, a suggestion for “quotes” pops up (although as my grade ten English teacher drilled into us, “quote” is a verb, “quotation” is a noun).

“Being confused quotes”

“Friendship quotes”

“Grief quotes”

“Personal growth quotes”

I think sometimes we like to see our emotions articulated and expressed eloquently by someone else. It makes messy, abstract emotions concrete.  If someone else felt similar enough to write a relatable statement, clearly, we’re not alone in that feeling, which is hugely comforting.

The thing I’ve found about quotations, mottoes, even song lyrics, is that we tend to relate them to us. We bring our own meaning to the (usually somewhat vague and generalized) words. In any creative endeavour, it takes two to make meaning: artist and audience. Hence why everyone’s experience of a particular piece is different.

Same idea here.

I’ve had a very, very rough two months. Last week in particular was really bad—I’ve been much quieter, online and in real life. But for the past few weeks, a few phrases have been coming to mind more and more.

The opening line of the best-known Māori haka:

Ka mate, ka mate; ka ora, ka ora.

I die, I die; I live, I live.

And a really old hymn.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Where there is love, God is there.

Again, fairly generalized phrases, but imbued with my own meaning into a sort of combined security blanket, prayer, and good luck charm.

Ka mate, ka mate; ka ora, ka ora.

Even when things suck, I’m still here. Even when I’m down, I’m still moving. Even when it seems like there is no end to this, there’s still some incredibly awesome things out there.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Anyone who’s read Hapax knows that I’m interested in theology, but I keep my own personal views fairly close to the vest. Still, the idea here seems right to me. Clearly, lack of sleep has made me into a complete and utter sap, but nevertheless…

Through all of this, there has been love.

I don’t have much patience with corporate-style mottoes or “mission statements.” They always seem fake—imposing meaning on the audience, rather than being vessels through which people find their own meaning. They express what someone wants you to feel, rather than reflecting the emotion you’ve discovered in yourself. A motto you stick with—the words that seem to play out in the background of life, over and over—means something to you.

All writing is symbiosis between writer and reader, even if the only reader is the writer. And maybe that’s why we like quotations so much. In a very concentrated, very personal way, our feelings and experiences are in dialogue with someone else’s.

Ubi caritas continues thusly:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est,

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor,

Exsultemus et in ipso jucundemur.

With the loose-but-pretty translation:

Where there is love, God is there,

Love has brought us here,

Let us rejoice and be glad.



Posted on March 4, 2013, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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