How many words do you know the definition to? Probably a lot. Now, let me rephrase the question a tad. How many words do you think you know the definition to? Are you following? I’ll give an example.
The young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (yes, I’m referencing this again. Missed it the first time? Check back here.) got me thinking a tad when Arnold Spirit, the main character in the book, lost his grandmother. He reflects and comments on grief, and the grieving process, and as I was reading this I reflected on the fact that maybe my own definition of grief was wrong. Or, maybe it wasn’t wrong, but just different. Different is good, but in reading the passage about Arnold missing his grandmother I came to understand grief in a new way. Take a look, or take a read.
“I felt helpless and stupid. I needed books. I wanted books. And I drew and drew cartoons. I hoped I could find more cartoons that would help me. And I hoped I could find stories that would help me. So I looked up the word “grief” in the dictionary. I wanted to find out everything I could about grief. I wanted to know why my family had been given so much to grieve about. And then I discovered the answer: grief (greef) n. When you feel so helpless and stupid that you think nothing will ever be right again, and your macaroni and cheese tastes like sawdust. -Webster’s Dickshunary 4ever.
Okay, so it was Gordy who showed me a book written by the guy who knew the answer. It was Euripides, this Greek writer from the fifth century BC. A way-old dude. I was joyless. I mean, I can’t even tell you how I found the strength to get up every morning. And yet, every morning, I did get up and go to school. I made a list of the people who had given me the most joy in my life. That was the only way I managed to make it through all of that death and change. And I kept trying to find the little pieces of joy in life. I made a list of the musicians who had played the most joyous music. I made a list of my favorite foods. I made a list of my favorite books. I made a list of my favorite basketball players. I kept making list after list of the things that made me feel joy. And I kept drawing cartoons of the things that made me angry. I keep writing and rewriting, drawing and redrawing, and rethinking and revising and reediting. It became my grieving ceremony.” (page 172-178)
Thus, in my opinion it is undeniably possible to re-learn a word, and a young adult novel helped me with that. Funny how these things work out.