Assigned Work: One (Big) Word

This May, I’m committing myself to writing student-assigned topics. Some of them might be cut-and-dried, some of them might be bears. And some of them will reveal themselves in the writing. Today is also the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life challenge. Check ’em out!

Today’s assignment: What is the most important word?


So wait. I’m a lover of words, a depender-onner of words, a clinger-with-a-white-knuckled-grasper of words, and I’m supposed to choose…ONE?

This strikes me as an assignment similar to choosing “One Little Word” for the Slice of Life challenge. I chose one word in January, and yet another in February. (I’m still living that second one, waiting patiently for a transition.)

But the most important word?

I guess I’d have to think about what’s important to me, and the first word that comes to mind is love. It’s my north star, my moral compass. I try and lead with love in everything I do. I fall short, and often. Still, I try.

And yet, I feel like “love” doesn’t always sum up what I’m getting at. It’s not just that feeling of love, it’s a desire to understand. So perhaps…compassion? That gets a little bit closer. Love is a start. Compassion requires us to meet people where they are, to show empathy, to say over and over to the people around us in ways big and small that they – that none of us – are alone.

So compassion brings me closer to that guiding principle of that most important word. Still, though, I can’t help but think it falls short. Because a “most important word” to me needs to be universal. Sure, compassion is at the heart of my relationships with other people.

But what about nature?
What about this earth?
What about our universe, and our place within it?

I need something bigger.

And where I think I’m landing is connection to the beauty and wonder and awe everywhere around me.

Compassion, I think, is built on connection. It’s an acknowledgement of beauty and awe within people. Connection is even bigger, even deeper. It extends beyond human relationships and roots me, grounds me.

Connection is spring grass on my bare feet.
It’s stroking the fur of a dog that’s finally plopped down to rest.
It’s a recipe passed down through generations.
It’s the wonder of looking into a starry sky.
It’s the feel of your father’s watch on your wrist.
It’s a text message that says nothing but a heart emoji.
It’s the power of a strong, solid hug.
It’s the smell of earth after a rain.

Will I think on this some more? Probably.

Might I further whittle this idea down to a sharper point? Stranger things have happened.

But for now, it’s where I’ve landed.

And you? What do YOU suppose is the most important word?

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24 Responses to “Assigned Work: One (Big) Word”

  1. arjeha Says:

    I really like how you hone your choice of most important word. I would venture to say that love is the most important because compassion and connection are offshoots of it. Kind of like the sun (love) with all of its rays (compassion, connection, etc.) emanating from it. You can keep adding rays, but love is at the center.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you. And yes, I do keep circling back to love as I consider these words – I don’t know why connection spoke to me so loudly when I was writing this post – maybe that’s worth wrestling with a bit more . Your comment about “honing” my choice made me think of the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” The whole book is a process of the main character honing down the meaning of life to a single idea or word. It’s an endless pursuit. In some ways, I’m not quite sure it’s an entirely fair question – *should* there be one word above all others? I don’t know.

  2. vivian chen Says:

    I love how many words you’ve used to come to one big word! But as I was reading I kept thinking, “No, LOVE, is right!” Love is bigger than compassion. Love is bigger than connection. But I guess all three of those words are what you make of them. It was a beautiful read.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you! I still keep circling back to love, weighing those two words from hand to hand. Like you, I’m not sure which one feeds the other, which one stands upon the other. Ask me a different day and I, too, will probably say it’s love. It’s also what I love about prompts like this – it reveals so much of how we see the world.

  3. rabbitdownahole Says:

    I really like the way you landed on Connection. It feels accessible to me and easily extended to all around you…and begets compassion. Love, for sure, but that feels so vast and you can sneak up on it through connection.
    I especially enjoyed your stanza of what connection is embedded in your post. Well done!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you! Poetry always has a way of sneaking around the corner and finding spaces within my writing. It’s kind of sneaky like that. =))

  4. edifiedlistener Says:

    For now I’m just glad that I don’t have to choose! I really love how you’ve drawn us into your thought process and let us try on a few words along with you. And that list of connections helps me see your meaning better than anything: green grass under bare feet, a strong, solid hug – I know exactly what you’re talking about!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Thank you! I’m still not 100% decided that this is the word I’ve settled on, but for now it’s good. Ask me when I’m in a different mood or life situation and the answer could be COMPLETELY different.

  5. Raivenne Says:

    Oh you are good. I cannot possibly choose one word. You’ve done with his. I cannot argue your points “Connection” is beautiful and definitely works as a very important word. I can circle connection back to “love.”

    Of course the Holy Bible gives us Corinthians 13, but let’s keep this secular.

    Unlike some other languages, the English language fails us greatly in only having one word for love and thus, in my opinion, its over use for everything. The love of your favorite shoes or a sofa is not the same as the love of a pet, is not the same as the love of your neighbors, is not the same as the love of family, is not the same as the love of your romantic partner/spouse which is the first love most people think of with the English word love.

    You can have connections without love (certain work colleagues or that handed down recipe for example), but you cannot have love without a connection if that makes sense.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Love – the greatest of all things. To tell you the truth, I circled back around to love in my thoughts. I still go back and forth about it in my mind. As for the connection without love, I do understand that – and that, perhaps, IS what circles back to love, because that is what makes our connections to everything meaningful. As always, you’ve given me food for thought. Thank you. It’s what I admire about you.

  6. hardly an artist Says:

    For this year, my most important word has been NO. I have learned how powerful it can make me feel when I don’t have to say yes to everything thrown my way. Thanks for sharing, I bet your students had wonderful responses!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Ahhh absolutely! I love it. I’m getting better at saying that word, and I’m learning how to say it without excuse or apology (that second part is difficult). As for my students…that’s a good question! It wasn’t an assignment I had given them. It’s either from their classroom teacher (I’m enrichment), OR it’s one that they cooked up for me. ; )

  7. theapplesinmyorchard Says:

    Love your choice of word, Lainie, and why you chose it. Such a difficult assignment! I am not sure what I would choose. Empathy was the first word to come to mind after I read your post. It’s a good word – I’ll let it sit for a while and see if I can think of a different one. I’ve always liked invest – invest in your students, yourself, the earth, your community, etc., etc. A great assignment from your students! Thanks for sharing it!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      INVESTMENT. Yes. I have a dinky little plaque that I made in one of my grad school classes – we all got a buzzword-y slogan to mount on a piece of wood. Thankfully mine was a good one: “The best investment I make is in people.” Or something like that. But…YES. it requires a certain dedication, a willingness to do what it takes for the people and things we care about. I love it!

  8. Tim Gels Says:

    Lainie, those students of yours are keeping you on your toes! I can’t argue with your choice of connection, and I certainly appreciate your spelling out how you got there — fantastic! All of those are so closely related, and any of them could be my most important word on any given day. My contribution to that small word pool would have to be “grace.” I love to receive it, and I love to give it. The latter is tougher, but I’m getting there. As always, thanks for sharing with us!

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Yes, they ARE! Tomorrow’s assignment is more academic, and I’m a little bit nervous, because the story I’m supposed to analyze doesn’t make an overwhelming amount of sense to me yet. As for “grace,” YES. It requires such a generosity of spirit that I’d love to always have, but sometimes I fall short. Guess I’m trying to get there, too…

  9. britt Says:

    First of all, I love that you are completing this challenge. I must do so in the future – what a brilliant idea. Second, MY OLW THIS YEAR IS CONNECTION! I’m feeling super…connected (??!??) to this post!

    I had a moment like this today. I had a sudden and overwhelming feeling of guilt about something regarding our upcoming transition from one child to two children. I immediately texted my aunt whose response was not advice just yet; it was “Any feelings you feel are fine because they are YOUR feelings. There is no right or wrong. There is no such thing as ‘normal.'” And the tears welled up badly. For whatever reason, I truly expected her to respond paragraphs of advice and what she did and so on – but I felt so seen and so loved and so connected to another person traversing motherhood. ❤

    Thank you for exploring this "out loud."

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      I love that your word is connection. It’s amazing how the universe brings us these little gifts, isn’t it? As for that advice…YES. That moment of compassion, of validation, of just…letting you BE with your feelings and know you’re not alone. That? THAT is also a wonderful gift that this world brings us, for sure. I’m grateful that she brought you that connection and that love.

  10. onathought Says:

    Not only is this a beautiful slice, but I LOVE how you are doing student assignments. What a powerful thing to do. I would find it hard to choose the most important word. Right now I’m working on making myself a priority in my life, but I’m not quit ready to say “me” is the most important word.

  11. Fran Haley Says:

    I gotta love this line: “a depender-onner of words” – I get it. They’re the air we breathe, my friend. Or that our brains breathe, anyway. I love this idea of writing student-generated topics! I expected love to come up quickly. And I celebrate the appearance of my dear, treasured “awe” (for what is life without it?) and your arrival at “connection.” In the end… all things connect. Chasing those threads fascinates me almost more than anything.Your lines on connection open many doors in my mind – making me recall a story I read about a young woman preparing for a holiday tradition and sensing all the women in her family before her, doing these same things throughout generations, feeling their presence and deep connections to them.

    -What’s the most important word?? I am like you – I need it to be big. Very big. Wondrous and powerful – almost magical. Transformative. connected to love, yes – but maybe only a facet of it.

    “Forgiveness” comes close.

    • Lainie Levin Says:

      Ooh Fran that’s a GOOD one. In a way, I still wrestle with this idea, because I feel like the biggest, most important things in our world…well, they defy language. They defy comprehension. I’m still not quite sure what to do with it. As for that connection we feel to others through the actions we do, through ritual and tradition, YES. These things are sacred and important and life-giving.

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