Thursday, November 18, 2010

Learning Languages

A friend of mine, just posted what's below on her blog, and it so fully captivated a few things I've been thinking about:

About twice a week I’ll talk to my sister on the phone. And one of us will say, what’s new? And the other one will say, nothing. Oh, I bought that Anthropologie dress I was telling you about, the one with the blue flowers and the gorgeous neckline. And the first one will say, nice, have you worn it yet?

And that’s about how the conversation will go. Neither of us has any wildly exciting news. We don’t have anything we absolutely have to say. But that phone call, and hearing her voice on the other end of the phone, and telling her about the forgettable details of my life, those things are as important to me as telling her about the big stuff.

I do the same thing with my best friend. We’re online most of the day for most days, and usually we talk about the truly gripping details of our lives like, I have spaghetti squash leftovers for my lunch today and they’re not that great. Maybe I should heat them up more. It absolutely dumbfounds her husband how much we talk. And he knows us both, so that’s saying something.

I got to thinking about this after reading this lovely New York Times article about sisters. And as much as it’s true with my sister, I think there’s a bigger point here. It’s important to me, on a human level, to feel that I have a witness to my life. I think this is one of those fundamental basic needs. I need to feel that I connect to people and that they understand me. When we’re talking about dresses and lunch, we’re validating each other’s experiences of the world, even if it’s in an incredibly mundane way.

Like Hannah, I love details. I love to touch base throughout a day, to know how a meeting went, what's for snack, what unexpected thing popped up, what color the new throw pillows are, what the teacher said at parent-teacher conference, which restaurant for lunch, who was at happy hour, the next minute step in the decision process. For me, the details are intimate and visually connect me to someone I love, and the process of sharing them with me specifically (rather than on facebook or a blog) feels an affirmation, itself. And what a relief and gift it is to have someone to receive my own details -- to, yes, feel that someone is journeying closely along with me -- particularly in these years when I am alone with children so often -- and is witness to my life. In my language, details = love.

These days, though, I'm working to learn other languages because the fact is, of course, not everyone loves detail-sharing, nor is it always possible, or, hard for me to believe, even desired -- Ben for example could live happily with a select few details.

This is not revelation. This is not at all new. One of my best friends from college speaks an utterly different language than I do. This has always been the case. And yet, without fail, despite myself, I expect her to invite me into details and live in constant contact -- because she loves me, and in my little dictionary, that's what love looks like. And even though I know she's never communicated like that for long, I feel the shock of her silence every time.

When it happened this last time, I realized I need to coax my stubborn programmed heart into multilingual living, into allowing love, spoken even in an abrasive tongue, still to be love. And it's hard. My defenses fly up instantly and shout their interpretation -- difference = indifference. I'm trying to hear the clear thoughts beneath. My goddaughter, Madeleine, started French immersion kindergarten this year. Two months into it, she can already turn to the French word before the English; I am taking this as hope.

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