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Maybe it's because I write for a living. Maybe it's because I don't know what else to do. Maybe it's because silence is worse than anything.

But what I've been thinking these days when we've been stunned and numbed more than we could ever have anticipated is how central words are to the experience.

How we hung on the first words, the words that told us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Towers.

And then, how words seemed so inadequate when we called each other.

"I just wanted to hear your voice." "I want to tell you that I love you." "I'll be right home, if you want me there."

How mundane. How more important than anything we've ever said.

Sometimes, over the past few days, I've felt like Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady" when she barked out in frustration: "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words ..." So, I turned off the television news. I turned off the radio. I put the newspaper down.

When each word and the news it imparted became worse than the last, I had to put them aside. At first, the words were like sledgehammers, hitting hard over and over, to tell us the unbelievable, the monumental, the horrific. And then they became like ice picks, jabbing our hearts.

They were personal. They were names. They were stories. They were about people, people who went to work on a particular Tuesday and ended in a rubble of debris.

No matter how heartbreaking, though, I go back to the words.

I want to know what's happening. I want to know how others think and feel. I want to hear words that will bring connection, if not comfort.

These words of light and enlightening are there: I heard a man, interviewed on National Public Radio, recount how he had carried a woman who uses a wheelchair down the stairs of the World Trade Center. I heard about Todd Beamer, the plane passenger whose last words before taking on the hijackers will doubtless ring in our ears: "We're going to do something. Let's roll." I heard about Americans donating blood, cooking meals, passing buckets hand to hand in the gruesome recovery effort.

Words came on a handprinted sheet of paper that my daughter, mother of 11-month-old Alice, sent to us: "It occurred to me that my grandparents probably had many of the same thoughts about the concern for the future and what their children would live in," she writes. "Dad (who is 60) was the same age Alice is (now) when Pearl Harbor took place."

I'm searching for solace, in the Psalms, the words of religious leaders, from my family. I need those words as beacons for the dark path we now travel.

That's why I went to a communitywide Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral, where I heard Bishop Henry J. Mansell compare the plane slicing into the building to a sword piercing our hearts.

"But," he told those in the crowded church, "it also stirs us to our souls and sends us to our roots."

The bishop tied the present moment to universal questions, saying that he had been thinking about the people in the planes. "I wonder what they did? What were their prayers, as they knew death was imminent? What would our prayers be?

"Would we be giving thanksgiving for our lives? Our years here?"

Mansell reminded the congregation: "All life is lived on the edge of a precipice. We all have an eternal destiny.

"It's when we forget God that we lose all sense of who we are."

Those are words I needed, words I can take in, words that nourish.