Helping You With Your Ascent Allows Me to Feel So...

Sentimental. Perhaps subconsciously, and now after all this research is over, consciously, sentimental was my favorite word. It all too vividly reminds me of two very important passions that I have in my life: Music and the Broadway musical “Wicked”. The former is most definitely more literal in how it relates to my new favorite word; I’ve been playing the violin since I was seven, and the best parts of my frequently bullied and ridiculed childhood years was making music in our school’s orchestra room during recess, when all I desperately wanted was to avoid my classmates. I’ll admit, I cling onto those memories in an overprotective, and most definitely, sentimental manner. My latter passion, however, is unquestionably more abstract than my love for music. Dear Reader, I must confess; I transform myself into an utterly obsessed theatre groupie whenever something related to “Wicked” is mentioned. Without getting too off topic I will tell you this; right before the climax of the entire storyline, the Wizard of Oz assures the protagonist Elphaba that “helping you with your ascent allows me to feel so parental. For I am, a sentimental man.” In a way, his sentimental wish to help her, in a time where she feels so ridiculed, is like how music helped me survive elementary school. The fact that this word can accurately summarize my life and transcends to the life of a character that I admire greatly, made the topic for this essay a no-brainer.

Although I was completely confident in picking my word from a bank and declaring “ Mrs. Favre, I want sentimental,” in front of my friends and peers, I can assure you that I was not at all confident about how to use this word, or if I even knew what it exactly meant. I knew, in part from my general knowledge and in part from “Wicked”, that sentimental had something to do with caring, tenderness, and nostalgia. Without really knowing what I was doing, my initial process of inquiry, my “quest to find out the truth”, towards sentimental consisted of typing its eleven letters into Google and pressing “Search.” Yes, I am aware that “Google-ing” an answer is not the best decision in the world, but I had to start from a ground zero in my vocabulary. As I read about sentimental and as I was educating myself about what it really meant, I realized I had become very critical of this word. I would only pick definitions that I had researched to represent it that I truly believed in, ones that were screaming across my computer screen “ I am sentimental.” It’s almost as if I adopted this word, like how someone would adopt an orphaned child. And, somewhere between reading a poem by an anonymous love stricken teenager and listening to the opinions of a bitter 19th century English biologist, is where everything clicked. Through my research, my discovery of different poems and quotes, and making my collage as a visual representation of sentimental, I realized, that a word that I had associated with heavenly virtues is, more often than not, used as an insult.

The textbook definition of sentimental encourages readers to believe that it is associated with “feelings of tenderness, sadness, and nostalgia.” This may be so, but in examining synonyms for the same word, a list of negative phrases like vapid, corny, pathetic, silly, brainless, buffoonish, dumb, nauseating, and thoughtless is compiled. Logically, I would never have imagined a word like tenderness to be a substitute for a horrible piece of criticism like nauseating. I also never would have thought them both to be related to the word sentimental, a word that I had closely associated with love. But it is here that I am very wrong. Paradoxically, sentimental signifies comforting emotions and tenderness, that also make you unable to relinquish your past, to be the antithesis of futuristic. In spite of this, I find that both definitions are equally effective when used in the English language. Throughout my research, I came across an article that profiled the closing of the iconic St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. This article recognized the important role that the hospital played in the lives of its patients, and how it truly was the last beacon of hope for the poorest people of the world. That is the perfect example of how sentimental relates to tenderness, love, and nostalgia; it is the patient whose life was saved in this miraculous place who now has to watch it close. On the other hand, the successful 19th century English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley understands the demonic side of this word, and cautions the world that it “makes up for all its follies and injustices by being damnably sentimental.” On the surface, these two excerpts do not seem to be related in any way, so in a way, it’s funny how they both show what sentimental is, a yearning for the past and an invitation to disregard reality.

Sentimental. At the beginning of this project, I regarded it as a word that I didn’t fully understand, but certainly not as something that could be harmful. Now, I realize that when someone dubs you “overflowing with sentimentality”, they are not always talking about how great you are as a person, they are referring to how you are lost in your past, irrational, and disconnected to reality. It is a puzzle in its own right how the English language allows one word to have two opposite meanings, and allow them both to be true. I understand that this is considered a paradox, but it also helps me to understand about the power of language and the written word. I had forgotten that one word in one sentence in one paragraph of one paper can and will change the entire meaning of what you mean to say. I can now sentimentally look back on this writing experience, and say that it helped to morph my understanding of writing. The funny thing is, I will leave it to you to guess which definition of sentimental I am referring to.





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