The Power of Words

  • Published
  • By Col. Bridget M. McNamara
  • 422nd Air Base Group

As a child, I fell in love with books. More accurately, I fell in love with words.

I would read anything and everything I could find; even cereal boxes and backs of milk cartons were fair game. I was transported to worlds that intrigued and frightened me, exposed to ideas that challenged and pushed me, and introduced to people, both real and imagined, who became examples of what I did and did not want to be “when I grew up.” I kept notebooks with my favorite quotations, and thumped out short stories on my grandfather’s typewriter. I would stay up all night to read, and sometimes re-read, a newfound text. Throughout high school and into college, I worked at a bookstore, relishing delivery days and slow Sunday afternoons, when I could stock the new arrivals and peruse the shelves for my next “gotta reads.”

To this day, there are words, from countless sources- novels, plays, poems, religious texts, songs, speeches, even advertisements- that pop into my head at unexpected times, and in unexpected places. From a cross-stitch on my grandmother’s wall “the clock of life is wound but once…,” to Emily Dickinson’s “hope is the thing with feathers…,” to the Catholic hymn “be not afraid, I go before you always…,” to the kid’s poem “ladies and jellyspoons, I come before you to stand behind you to tell you something I know nothing about…,” these words find me wherever I am, and provide an endless source of perspective, encouragement, and humor.

As an Airman, officer, and pilot, there are specific words that resonate deeply within me and often come randomly to mind. They guide, focus, dare, and inspire me, and act as near-subconscious reminders about why I chose to serve in the first place and why I continue to serve now.  A sampling includes:

“Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do.”

“…I will support and defend....”

“I am an American Airman...”

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…” “Maintain aircraft control. Analyze the situation and take the proper action. Land as soon as conditions permit.”

“Aimpoint, airspeed. Aimpoint, airspeed. Aimpoint, airspeed…”

“…Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die…”

“Eternal spirit of the chainless mind! Brightest in dungeons, Liberty, thou art;…”

“Please contain your crash to the far end of the field.”

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…” “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary….”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

And from my time here in England, these words have now added themselves to my mental playlist:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…”

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

“When you go home, tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

Even as I write, more words tumble from my brain into my hands. I could go on and on, but instead I will stop and ask-

What words do you want to say more, or perhaps say less? What words do you want to hear more? What words stick with you? What phrases, poems, verses, and stories awaken and motivate you? Cause you to stop and think and grow? Challenge you to be courageous? Bring you comfort and peace? Lift you when you’re down? Remind you of what you find important and hold most dear? Make you laugh, or bring laughter to those around you?

As you consider your responses, perhaps contemplate these words as well:

Sacrifice. Commitment. Respect. Faith. Community. Kindness. Hope. Bravery. Humility. Strength. Love.

Sit with them for a bit. Turn them over and examine them, and discover what beauty and meaning they reveal to you; their power might surprise you.

As you reflect, and as we leap into the coming year, carrying our goals and our desires, our fears and our worries, I challenge you to unleash that power. Seek words that inspire change and invite happiness and positivity into your life, then share words that might encourage the same in the lives of others.

Above all else, choose your words wisely, speak from the heart, and listen with an open mind. You might just change the world.

Aim High Pathfinders! Together, we will fly higher, further and faster in 2020!