Life From A to Z (and sometimes Y)

Consider a library. A library full of books. Books full of words. Lots and lots of words.

Think of all the libraries in towns and cities located across the country. Lots and lots of libraries, full of lots and lots of books, all adding up to lots and lots and lots and lots of words.

Now consider that all these words are made up of the same 26 basic building blocks that we call letters. Everything we read is as a result of these same 26 letters arranged into different patterns to form thoughts as random as "kitchen" and "chair" and "scarf." Like verbal atoms, letters form the very root of everything we know in terms of written and oral communication. And like atoms, letters cannot be subdivided. They cannot be split apart. They simply are what they are.

Open up any book written in the English language and you'll find only the usual 26 letters. Over and over again these letters are used and reused and reused again in a seemingly endless string of permutations. The same old letters, recycled over and over and over again. You won't suddenly find a new letter mixed in there ... something coming before A, or after Z, or somehow wedged between M and N. You won't find any new vowels beyond the typical A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y. You won't find a new letter to accompany Q - that job unequivocally and unquestionably belongs to the letter U. Let's face it, membership in the League of Letters will forever stand at 26 - it's all spelled out in the alphabet bylaws.

We learned the alphabet at an early age. As an adult, I still "see" the alphabet in my mind's eye as I did when I was a child. I see it as a progression of some sort, growing in value from A to Z. I refer to the "A" end of the alphabet as the "low end" of the alphabet, and the "Z" end as the "high end." In that sense, the value of Z outweighs the value of A. (The board game Scrabble will back me up on this.)

There are "obvious" groupings of letters - well, obvious in my mind - letters which belong together as if they exist as subsets of the whole. I group them as such: A thru D (subset 1), E & F (subset 2), G & H (subset 3), I thru K (subset 4), L thru N (subset 5), O thru R (subset 6), S & T (subset 7), U thru W (subset 8), and X thru Z (subset 9). Does any of this make sense? Or by now have I completely lost my readership ... and my mind?

I envision life as sort of like the alphabet. A, of course, is birth (A for Adam, the first man). Z is death (Z for Zzzzzz, the eternal sleep). I would say that at age 44 my life has entered the letter L stage - based on my plan to live to 100. I have achieved middle age: graying about the temples, developing crow's feet, supported by creaky knees, and suddenly humming sappy 1970's ballads.

All the greatest words ever written or uttered can be found in these simple 26 letters. Jefferson didn't invent any new letters when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln didn't invent any when he wrote his Gettysburg address. Parish didn't invent any when he penned the lyrics to "Stardust." Nor did the Gershwins when they wrote "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Nor did Torme when he wrote "The Christmas Song." Nor Lennon when he wrote "Imagine." They simply took the available letters and came up with a new order.

Which leads one to finally ask ... what the heck am I getting at? I guess I'm just fascinated with "stuff" like this. You see, it amazes me that all the high-level discussing and arguing and debating and rebutting done each day by the movers and shakers that make the world go 'round is done using the same 26 letters, over and over and over again. There's nothing new to it. In fact, it's probably mankind's single greatest recycling effort, and yet we're not even aware that we're doing it.

So next time you open your mouth to talk, or take pen in hand to write, don't be too concerned. After all, there are only 26 letters. In some way it's probably all been said or written before.

Jack Sheedy

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