Speaking a foreign language
When I was a little girl, we lived in Naperville while my Dad worked in Chicago. Every day, he took a train into town. I remember running down the tunnel to meet him at the end of the day and trying to make my 7 yr old legs keep up with his long strides, as we headed back to the car together. Some nights, Dad worked late, and we didn’t go meet his train, but rather, my Mom would drive over and leave the car and take a taxi back home, so Dad could drive home whenever he got into town.
One bitter cold winter night is vividly clear in my memory. Dad came to the door, just as I was heading to bed, with a large, lumbering BEAR!!! It was a reddish brown from head to toe! I was terrified.
As the animal came into the house, I realized that what looked like fur about its feet was in fact, furry boots. The fur of his face was his scraggly beard. His coat and his hat were very close in color to his hair and beard and at first glance, this man looked like a bear.
My Mom took his coat and offered him a cup of coffee. (See, I come by it naturally!) He took it with much appreciation, but seemed uncomfortable at accepting a plate of food, left over from dinner. He tried, with much pointing and flapping of arms to tell us that he didn’t have enough money to pay us for the food. We tried to respond with much waving of arms and pointing that we didn’t want him to pay us.
You see, my bear spoke Russian – and in suburbia Chicago in the 1970’s, Russian just wasn’t particularly useful. I don’t know how long Mr. Bear stayed around, as my parents sent me to bed, while they waited for a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (who DID speak Russian) to arrive from Chicago. By the time I got up in the morning, Mr. Bear was gone.
The memory that has stuck with me so deeply was that feeling of utter and complete inability to speak the same language. I remember feeling so helpless that we couldn’t take what is such a functional tool to us – the English language – and use it to fix whatever was so obviously wrong in the life of this bear of a man.
I think that is a goodly part of what motivated Jeff and I to learn sign language. The first time we watched a deaf woman struggle to tell a store clerk something, we were captivated. And we remained so for many years. The deaf culture was precious, dearly loved. We were quite sad when our move took us out of their realm.
Language is such a funny thing. When we find a note, handwritten by our children telling us that they “luv us” and that they want to “huge us and kis us”, we know just what they mean. When our toddler asks, “How many are you?” we understand them to be asking how old we are. When our husband says….okay, well maybe that isn’t such a good example. 😉 Suffice it to say that for the most part, our relationships thrive based on our ability to wield words and make them our servants.
With just a few words we can communicate frustration, weakness, fear and loneliness. With just a few words we can communicate confusion and an inability to process information. I just love words.
I hate words. They are the ties that bind my thoughts and hold them captive for lack of clarity. They are the gun that forces me to allow things to slip between my lips that I was still in the process of pondering, that were not yet fit for human consumption.
They are the things that bind hearts – or separates them – sometimes seemingly without hesitation or discretion. I confess, that is why I have been so absent recently. I, she who is working with words constantly these days, find that I am fearful of sharing where I am.
There are very few that I will allow near my heart these days, simply because where Father has taken us seems so contrary – so other – compared to the paths He has taken our Siblings on, that there are no words available to explain what is going on in our hearts and lives. There are so few on this path, that often we feel we are carrying a machete to hack away all that is before us. We know of no others so seemingly foolish to share this path with us…and yet, Father continues to woo us into walking forward. “Further in and further up!” He keeps calling out to us – and so we go…further in and further up…in silence.