“They are engaged…” I’m never sure, when I hear those words, if I need to wait to hear more. You see, the word “engage” is far ranging, meaning anything from promising to marry someone, all the way to hiring a lawyer to dissolve the marriage. We use the word for so many things. It has impact in the world of mechanics as we speak of engaging the clutch, as well as any other pairing of gears together. If we make an appointment, we have an upcoming engagement. When the speaker at an event is especially gifted in holding the attention of his audience, he is an engaging speaker. The list goes on and on.
I remember several years ago, a young man came to me and asked if he and I could meet at a local restaurant for a meal. We made the engagement and met there on the appointed day and time. As we ordered and waited for our food, we engaged in small talk, having no particular subject in mind to discuss at that time. He proved to be an engaging communicator, regaling me with a description of his responsibilities as the mascot at the university basketball games. He had been engaged to do that the year prior, and enjoyed his time in the costume, but realized that with his coming graduation, he would need to be engaged in finding a full-time job soon. As the meal wound down, I could tell that he was a little nervous, but I waited for him to speak. When he did get to the subject he wanted to discuss, it was almost as if he were afraid that he was about to engage an enemy. I know that it can be a frightening thing to broach a subject with someone about whose response you are unsure. As you may have guessed, he wanted to engage with me (at our lunch engagement) about an engagement of a completely different sort. He wanted to marry my daughter!
I relate the event to you, primarily to illustrate the many meanings of the word “engage”. It is quite a versatile word, and plays a very active role in our language. You may have even noticed the most interesting thing about the word already. There is something which is required for the word to work at all, from its use in meeting the enemy in combat, to hiring someone to do a job, all the way to promising to marry the love of your life. The requirement for the word “engage” to function is that there be more than one person or thing which is involved. A gear will never engage if there is no other gear with which it can mesh. No pinion for the rack, or no flywheel for the clutch? There is no engagement and no propulsion! I cannot hire anyone at all if there is no one who wishes to perform the task I have in mind. No one who wants to sweep my floors? I have engaged no one and the house remains dirty! Even if I were an unrivaled silver-tongued elocutionist (which I am not), if there is no audience to stand before, I am not engaging in the slightest.
I have to admit that I really like the word! This one word reminds me that I need people, but also that I am needed. As peanut butter needs jelly (okay, so some of you actually eat it alone, by the spoonful), and even as the Roadrunner needs Wile E. Coyote, there is no engagement without at least two people who are willing to participate. The nice thing about some engagements is that they last for a lifetime. The Lovely Lady and I began our engagement six months before a wedding almost thirty-four years ago and are still entangled today. In contrast, the nice thing about some other engagements is that they are very short lived. My interaction, many years ago, with a little dog that took a bite out of my leg springs to mind. It was a never to be repeated engagement!
Well, I’ve engaged in this foolishness for long enough tonight. I’m so glad that you also engaged in the process with me and have made it this far. We’ll have to do this again soon. How about next Monday?
We’ll call it an engagement then!
“Get involved. You don’t want to look back on your life and realize that you successfully managed to stay out of it.”
(Robert Brault~American writer and columnist)
“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.