The most powerful drug

The walls of my garret are covered with words that inspire, strengthen and comfort me. July 2007

The walls of my garret are covered with words to inspire, support and comfort me. July 2007

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

I don’t remember when I first realized that not everyone was as fascinated by words as I am, but it’s something that I still don’t fully understand.  I have always been so drawn to words; their meaning, their rhythms and sounds, the infinite variety of ways they can be combined, sometimes with astounding power.

Stories enchant and instruct me; poems speed past logic and go directly to my heart; essays and quotes stir me and set me pondering; even the lyrics of songs reach me as deeply as the music, often more so.

During the years Matt was in school, the special education laws were more often disregarded than they were obeyed in practice (though not on paper).  My life was pervasively affected by the continual need for active advocacy to ensure that he received an appropriate education, and sadly, negotiations in the endless meetings with school officials, some of whom never worked directly with our son, often became strained and even adversarial.  Though I have never been a litigious person, I was forced to learn more than I ever wanted to know about formal actions such as due process hearings and the filing of compliance complaints.

Acting as an individual against firmly entrenched bureaucratic power can be a very intimidating thing.  In continual meetings facing 6-10 people (sometimes even more) I often felt disregarded at best, and threatened at worst.  With my anxieties kicked into overdrive for weeks at a time, I found great solace and strength in the words of authors, advocates, musicians and poets.  I surrounded myself, literally and figuratively, with the power of their words.

If you are reading this blog, chances are that you also appreciate words as a means of growth, change, and connection.  What are some of your favorite quotes, sayings, scripture verses or song lyrics?  Have you ever faced a time when you relied on the words of others to give you the strength to keep going?


  1. Thanks Julia. The most important part of a man’s life is his ability to use words. Words build us and can also break us. And the greatest thing God gave us is his Word.

    • So true! In library school I took a course on the history of books and libraries, and though it was a totally secular course at a state university, it had the effect of strengthening my faith. I had not realized how much of that history was bound up in the efforts to copy and preserve the Bible texts. It’s truly a miracle that it has survived all the attempts to destroy it.

  2. Do you remember Tommy Smothers saying, “Words to me are a plaything.”? (Little humor there!) 🙂
    I do love word studies.

    • Yes, Carla, I’ve thought of that so many times over the years! Sometimes I feel about as (in)competent as Tommy was at handling them!

  3. I think everyone may not be fascinated by words, but everyone is “moved” by words, either positively or negatively. Words are containers… .

    The words that carry the most meaning for me are: I was here yesterday, I am here today, and I will be here tomorrow. This assurance of contancy, causes me to defeat despair! Thanks for sharing.

    • You’re right; even those who don’t consciously care about words are definitely affected by them. And they are truly containers, though I had never thought of it that way! Thanks for being here, and for your comments!

  4. Words are so powerful. Recently I ran across this quote from Corrie Ten Boom: ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.’ Life is always transitioning, moving forward, changing–we can hardly catch up. But leaving it in God’s hands gives me peace. This has become my tag line.

    • Thank you, Renee! I saw you from a distance yesterday morning, but Matt and I left right after the service was over, so I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you “close up!” Don’t you just love Corrie? She has some wonderful quotes and what a history to go with them! She has to be one of the greatest examples of defeating despair! I’m still working on leaving everything in God’s hands (although it’s all there already; I just need to increase my awareness of it!) Thanks for being here, hope you have a wonderful week!

  5. “Each morning is a new beginning of our life. Each day is a finished whole. The present day marks the boundary of our cares and concerns……Just as the ancient sun rises anew every day, so the eternal mercy of God is new every morning.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    • Thank you! Bonhoeffer, like Corrie Ten Boom (mentioned above) is one whose life lends great significance to his words. Just last night I was talking with my sister about my dependence on the promise that God’s mercies are “new every morning.” Thank you for helping me remember that!

  6. Ryan

    Here is a version of a poem I recite in my head many Sundays to help me focus during communion.

    By Christ redeemed, in Christ restored,
    We keep the memory adored,
    And show the death of our dear Lord,
    Until He come.

    His body broken in our stead
    Is here in this memorial bread,
    And so our feeble love is fed
    Until He come.

    The streams of His dread agony,
    His life blood shed for us, we see;
    The wine shall tell the mystery
    Until He come.

    And thus that dark betrayal night
    With the last advent we unite
    By one blest chain of loving rite
    Until He come.

    Until the trump of God be heard,
    Until the ancient graves be stirred,
    And, with the great commanding word,
    The Lord shall come.

    O blessèd hope! with this elate
    Let not our hearts be desolate,
    But, strong in faith, in patience wait
    Until He come.

    • Thank you, Ryan! When I was a young child, I remember Daddy saying that the words to that song are the best explanation of communion he knew of. Over the years I have remembered that whenever I sing or think of this song during the “loving rite” of communion. I love that fourth verse. I don’t remember ever reading the last two verses, though – very fitting ending! Thanks for sharing them. Love you.

  7. Carolyn

    Enjoyed your blog. The words friends said to me last year helped me . Today started off with some sad news. A friend,Roy Holloway, just passed away. The family goes to church with us, don’t know if you remember the name. they were in our class when you all where here. I have to go get my thoughts together and try to have a good day. Love to all.

    • Carolyn, I am so sorry to hear about Roy Holloway. The name does sound quite familiar, but I can’t call up a memory of the face (not too unusual for me, especially in the past few years). As you say, we have taken great solace in the words from friends and loved ones. We think of you often and pray you are staying healthy and cancer-free.

      BTW Jeff’s oncologist (the one who manages the chemo, not radiation) took one look at Jeff’s hands this morning, which along with his feet, had broken out in terrible blisters, and said “no more chemo for you; you are toxic.” He said there was a possibility he could re-start it at a later date, but first the hands and feet have to heal. On the plus side, the surgeon said that his liver incision (which has STILL not completely healed) will be fine and will eventually heal after the treatments are stopped. I’m just praying that the chemo has killed the new tumors already; Jeff is not quite halfway through the planned course, but I am relieved it has been stopped as he was suffering so terribly in the past week.

      Love to you and Terry. Thanks for staying in touch.

  8. For me it has always been poetry. There are many poems that have gripped me over the years, but my favorite is one by John Keats: “When I Have Fears.” That saw me through many dark times as i memorized it (& of course bible verses).

    • I haven’t heard of that one but the title sounds like it should be mandatory reading for me! Thanks for telling me about it. Hope this new school year will be a great one for you.

  9. Mike Bertoglio

    A.Voltaire quote has intrigued me and I paraphrase, “One of the most common use of words is to avoid our real thoughts.” Maybe he was thinking of some politicians at the time, but I have been in groups where people have used words as a smokescreen to avoid the real issues. Kind of like a filibuster move.
    Also St. Ambrose quote -especially relevant to writers-” Every word you write is a blow t o smite the Devil.”

    • Both of those quotes are good. Yes, words can also obscure meaning, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I remember back when the Panama Canal Treaty was being debated in the 70’s and there were complaints it was ambiguous – and Henry Kissinger commented that “ambiguity is the essence of diplomacy.” Hmmm, never did figure out what I thought about that one! I think one reason to become adept at language is that it does help you to break through intentionally confusing doubletalk, which was rampant in the special ed meetings I wrote about in the post. Just a few very incisive questions can often do much to cut through the obfuscation, but it’s not a skill that comes easily to most of us. St. Ambrose may have been thinking of that type of verbiage, among others, when he spoke (as many others have spoken) of words as a weapon. My mother often told me that I “argue like a Philadelphia lawyer” – although I don’t know where Philadelphia comes into the picture!

  10. Kathy

    My sister bought me a small book titled “100 Great Ideas to Relax & Reduce Stress” {Tyndale} and the first words of the book are a quote from Marcus Aurelius: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
    Marcus Aurelius was considered a Stoic in his beliefs, but editors at Tyndale must have thought Jesus would agree with this statement! I do 🙂 This quote has helped give me a new perspective.

    Thanks, again, Julia – – for your time and effort to create this wonderful blog.

    • Thanks Kathy, it’s great to see you here! I was just commenting to Mike recently about all the wonderful people I met at the writer’s conference. I think there is a great deal of wisdom in what Aurelius wrote, and I’ve quoted him on this blog at least once, with lines I had posted on my refrigerator for years. The quote you included here reminds me of one of the most oft-repeated maxims my Daddy likes to dispense: “Nothing is ever as good, or as bad, as you think it is at the time.” Or words to that effect. I am so happy you like the blog! I hope we are able to be together again at another conference someday – though I have no idea when that time may come; not anytime soon, I’m afraid. So I really appreciate your keeping in touch!

  11. Words are very important to me, even though I prefer to think in numbers. Our whole family has large vocabulary and know how to use them. My only problem is sometimes my mind is going faster than the words can come out, so then they may come out wrong and not as intended. or my mind goes blank and I do not know what to say. I love that communion poem that Ryan posted. I had not heard of it before.

    • Wow, I am in awe of anyone who can think in numbers; I find them so abstract that I get confused beyond basic mathematics. I am one of those slightly crazy people who thinks that numerals and letters (as well as certain other concrete, inanimate objects, such as different types of cars)have personalities! I have run across a few people who will admit that they do likewise. I do know that my college roommate and close friend, who became a highly accomplished and successful aeronautical engineer, once said something about the words coming out wrong that sounded very like what you said. It’s fascinating to me how many different types of intelligence and giftedness there are. Our younger son, who has a lot of overlapping learning disabilities, also has acute skills in several esoteric areas that are beyond most adults.

  12. I guess my comment didn’t take this morning. For me too, words have been powerful, but it’s been mostly poetry that I’m drawn to over the years. There have been many poems I’ve found solace in, but one of my all time favorites by John Keats is “When I have Fears.” I have found solace and inspiration in that poem repeatedly over the years, so much so that I’ve memorized it. The funny thing is that at one point I had it posted by a print of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “The Wanderer” in one of my work cubicles. I’ve never been able to separate the combination of the two since.

    • I did get your first comment, but I’m very far behind today and didn’t get to all the comments until a few minutes ago. I get so many spam comments that I have to moderate them. Thanks for linking to that poem because I definitely want to learn it myself. Wow, it’s amazing. When I read things like that I think “so I’m not the only one!” which I think is one of the best goals for a writer to shoot for. Keats’ poem is all the more remarkable considering he died at 25. We saw the house in Rome where he died; our son made sure we would know where to find it during the short time we were there. It’s amazing how well that painting goes with the poem. It reminds me of the Maxfield Parrish prints I like so much.

      • LOL! No worries. I should have thought to link to it before. Keats is one of my favorite poets and he definitely died too young. It’s been on my to-do list for quite some time to make it to his house/museum in the UK (a feat I have yet to accomplish), but I can only imagine what seeing his house in Rome must have been like. Wow. And yes, Maxfield Parrish and Howard Pyle definitely come in on the tailcoats of the Romantics and Pre-Raphelites as far as style is concerned (a favorite style of mine, I might add). They really flourished in what I think of as our great era of American illustrators. 😉

        • In library school I did an extensive project on William Morris, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Those Pre-Raphaelites were an interesting bunch, no doubt about it. I was given special permission to use some actual Kelmscott Press editions to display in a presentation I gave (normally they were kept in the UH rare books archive and guarded closely) and what did I do during the presentation but drop one! Luckily, there was no damage done that we could detect, but BOY was I mortified! Good thing I didn’t need to ask for any more favors from the rare books staff!!

  13. HarryS

    “It’s only words but words are all I have to steal your heart away”


    • I haven’t heard that song for a long time. I’ll have to go back and listen to it. I have a lot of Beatles music on the jump drive in my car, but for some reason I don’t have that one. Thanks for the reminder!


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