Words that make me stop in my tracks

I stop for words on the street.

Like the day a couple of summers ago on the 103 St bike lane when page 70 from Shaw's Pygmalion lay face up on the asphalt.
Liza Doolittle Day

I picked up the loose page and, standing over my bike, read the scene where Henry Higgins tells his mother he has picked up a girl.

Mrs. Higgins: Does that mean that some girl has picked you up?
Higgins: Not at all. I don't mean a love affair.
Mrs. Higgins: What a pity!

I remembered how Shelagh shared her love of musicals when we met. Camelot. My Fair Lady. She taught me that West Side Story was Romeo and Juliet.

And the day last summer in the north end when I pedalled across scattered pages from the Book of Psalms.

Old Testimony

I stopped and retrieved Psalm 33: The Lord frustrates the purposes of the nations; he keeps them from carrying out their plans.

I smiled. Still in the news that week was criticism of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions's retreat to St. Paul (not the city) as controversy swirled around his government's practice of separating immigrant parents from their children.

"I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes," said Sessions to a room of law enforcement official in Indiana (Lord, I can't go back there).

In Sessions' retreat to the altar, critics caught the whiff of theocracy. In the sudden appearance of the Psalm 33 on the 82 St service road, I fancied I heard the Lord's judgement of Sessions.

And like today on the 83 Ave bike lane on my way to Coffee Outside. There by the curb lay more words for the picking.

Paper chase

I doubled back for the stapled pages.

Return, retrieve

It was an academic paper from an unnamed student in Education 395 who wrote an abstract of an attached 12-page article, "What Do You Lose When You Lose Your Language (1996)," by Joshua Fishman. I put the article in my pannier and pedalled for Coffee Outside.

Tonight, I read the article. Fishman, who I now know was an American linguist who taught the sociology of language, argues that language provides to a community a sense of sanctity, a sense of kinship and a sense of moral imperative.

"[L]iteracy," Fishman writes, "provides a community or it creates access to communication across time and space. We can talk to people who are no longer alive through literacy."

Fishman died in 2015. I met him today in Garneau.

Hello from Edmonton, Joshua Fishman

There is something unavoidable about stopping for words when I'm on my bike.

It's easy. I'm already outside. Stopping for words would never work in an automobile

Stopping strikes me as a duty. I was raised to revere books. I still do. The experience of reading a book—the experience of reading sound made to stand still in shapes on a page—is still a time-defying thrill. It's painful to see printed words blowing forlornly down the street.

As well, there's a sense I feel as an urban bicycle rider of reading the city as I pedal across its pages of blocks and along its illustrated parks. To combine that figurative reading with a literal reading is delicious.

In the end, I enjoy the serendipity of it all, especially in this world of recommendation algorithms that tell me if I read this book, I will like this one. When I encounter printed words on the street, I hear the wind say: take what blows in and make something from it!

Of course, I may be reading more into things than I should.

I think Shelagh looks like Audrey

More found words


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