ness

by Kristen

Language is not static. Rules are broken—I break them all the time. Meanings and usages change. I know. I feel my shoulder inch up near my ear when people turn nouns into verbs. But sometimes tacking a suffix onto a word it doesn’t belong to creates the exact meaning I need.

One in particular keeps rising up within me: -ness. A word plus -ness denotes a quality or state; it turns adjectives or participles into abstract nouns. So I take “known” and I add -ness, and I get a word that sounds strange but means the quality of being known . . . known-ness. It’s perfect.

Because being known matters. Who I am when I am known matters. Known-ness feels different than being needed or wanted or tolerated or acknowledged. It’s the opposite of anonymity. There are overtones of being accepted and embraced and valued. To be known means being received for who I really am and not who I might be or used to be or seem to be.

Known-ness comes through sharing life: rejoicing together, grieving together, surviving together, thriving together, working together, resting together. It takes trust and truth. It doesn’t happen overnight nor is it a byproduct of time alone. It requires intentionality, vulnerability and honoring the other person’s vulnerability in turn.

Known-ness is scary. It’s risky. It requires stepping out from behind walls and facades and careful constructs. And it’s thrilling and freeing and wildly good.

Life—like language—is not static. Opening my arms to the dynamic possibilities of known-ness may be bending some rules of language usage but it is also expanding my definitions.

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