I’m new to the whole poetry thing and a total novice at appreciating the power of words. When constructing my sentences and forming my texts, I often settle for the phrase at hand, pushing off a vague concern about their lack of efficacy, potency, and virtue just to get ‘er done. I give little enough thought to spelling, let alone structure, or substance, or syntax. My friends have attested to this fact by frequently responding to messages with a “What does <insert very spellable word that no one should misspell but that I very clearly butchered here> mean?” And I (promptly, of course) respond with poorly veiled embarrassment that when I sent “foinf in,” I actually meant to type “going in.”
But my struggle with words goes beyond mere rush-induced misspellings. I often find myself failing to successfully communicate internal truths that feel, taste, and seem so immediate. Yet, when they rush scattered from that mysterious interior place from which they have come (commonly referred to as the brain), to my hand as I write, or from my mouth as I speak, they become distant and foreign and oftentimes, plain, dull, and ineffective.
Recently, I have considered my deficiency may stem not only from practice and exposure, (which I am attempting to resolve with a nose dive into poetry), but also from a lack of respect for the authority of words. The flippancy with which I throw around words in my daily communications indicates a lack of understanding of their impact, their effect on the people around me. This consideration of the influence of words stemmed from my encounter this summer with the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland, signed into law on October 7,1983.
In its entirety, this Amendment reads:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
The inherent power of those forty three words lies less in their syntax and particularity, although these elements were likely heavily debated when the Amendment was formed and continues to be debated today. It doesn’t even lie solely in the context in which they were written or the level of clarity with which they were interpreted. Rather, the simple measure of these forty-three words lies in the fact that 100,000 people are alive in Ireland today because they were written.
100,000 people. Words once again limit my ability to describe the inherent value and dignity of these 100,000 people. So instead, I will try to describe who they are.
They are people who were born between 1994 and 2014. Millennials and Generation Z-ers. They are young professionals, university students, fourth graders, and toddlers. They are Starbucks Baristas, young mothers and crabby pre-teens. Preschoolers just starting their education and college seniors waiting to finish it. They have friends, siblings, parents, teachers, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances. They enjoy their hobbies, waste time watching TV, and like updating their Instagram. Their lives have dignity and deserve respect, not because of their age, background, income, or race, but because of the mere fact that they exist. To disagree would be to dismiss one’s own inherent dignity and respect.
They are alive today because of the Eighth Amendment. Forty-three simple words have helped preserve a population of people just like you and me. Equal in size to the population of South Bend, immeasurable in impact to the people who know, love, and care for them.
Ireland is considering revising these forty-three words, perhaps riddling the constitution of them altogether. I spent three weeks of my summer defending these words. My words are nothing compared to those ones. The impact of my words is small. Yet, they still have power, and history has taught that silence in such moments merely lends their power to another. So I write, and speak, and defend these forty-three words and the 100,000 lives they have saved even with a complete awareness of my deficient abilities. Who’s with me?
Grace Enright is an economics major living in Cavanaugh Hall. She can hold her breath for 30 whole seconds. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.