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A Picture or a Thousand Words?

I know you’ve heard it.

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

On some levels, it’s true. In my lifetime, I have seen a few sights that were too grand for words. You’ve probably seen some as well. As I write, the first moment that pops into my mind is watching the sun ease up over the horizon of the North Atlantic Ocean in Islamorada, Florida. For the Tennessee locals, I also think of the first time I remember standing on the top of Lookout Mountain at Rock City. In both instances, I was awestruck. So, I agree, if you’re standing in front of something and looking at it with your own two eyes, at times a thousand words are hardly adequate.

BUT (there’s always a but…)

Have you ever read a marvelous story where a relative few words paint a picture in your mind? As you read along, everything on the page is visible to you. A friend of mine would call this “the theater of your mind.” And hey, maybe you think the story isn’t even all that good sometimes, but learning how to read with an imagination is a game-changer.

I’ll admit, I have an imaginative mind. That part of the equation was never difficult for me, but figuring out how to superimpose my imagination onto the literature I was reading took me a while. I guess the truly talented writers make this easy for us with the words they choose. Take, for example, the elaborate descriptions Margaret Mitchell provided in her epic novel, Gone with the Wind. I can see it all. It is a movie in my mind. Sure, the film adaptation was a masterpiece, but I contend that such a masterpiece was first made possible by the wordsmithing of Mitchell.

Since I’ve already referenced one Civil War epic, I’ll go ahead and share something else. Recently, I read a book called Hardtack and Coffee, which is the memoir of John Billings. John fought in an artillery battery during the Civil War, and he relates the feelings, sights, sounds, and even the smells of his time spent in the service. I loved his writing voice, and when I read the memoir, I heard the clatter of the caissons rolling over the deep muddy ruts. I saw the men sitting around the scarce campfires in their soiled and tattered uniforms. I felt the disappointment of sleep-deprived soldiers awakened in the middle of the night to move on toward an objective. I was right there with John. No picture could have compared to the scene playing in my mind.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but perhaps, sometimes a thousand words provide us with much more than one picture.

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