Confessions of a Poor Prayer

An old friend of mine recently underwent major surgery. We hadn’t spoken in years for a variety of reasons but we recently connected – you guessed it – on Facebook. He has always struck me as a private, humble man and what was remarkable was how he asked for prayers beforehand, something he had never really done before, thinking that asking for prayers was selfish on his part.

The prayers and well wishes he received from family and friends from various parts of his life were plentiful, lifted his spirits, and carried him successfully through the surgery including a frightening episode about 24 hours post-operation. He admitted afterwards that he was grateful for everyone’s prayers as it truly helped him through.

Because we hadn’t spoken in years and the severity of the surgery caught me by surprise, I called him to catch up. The conversation eventually turned to my life and whether I was happy. I had to admit that no, I really wasn’t. There is something refreshing about my 50s that I’m more apt to tell it like it is.

I shared a little bit about why I am struggling with happiness, but after so many years of not talking to this friend, I still caught myself holding back. It didn’t seem appropriate to dump my whole life story in the span of a short conversation. Besides he had some physical healing to do, and I know times like that can bring on a sort of mental reconciliation as well. There was no need for me to burden him whatsoever with my story.


Anyone looking at my life from the outside in would think I had it made. However I would urge you to look around: do you really know what burden another carries in their heart or for how long? Do you really care to know? And can you be trusted with this information if you had it?


My friend asked me if I prayed about my troubles. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, and felt a lump in my throat before answering. Despite getting more and more frank as I age, I may have even held back on what was really in my heart when I responded.

I told him truthfully that I was 100% certain that God does not answer my prayers. Speaking from five decades of experience, of course.

I hate that that’s where my spirituality has evolved but it’s true. I can think of several concrete examples of the times I have fervently prayed to God, appealing to him for certain changes, outcomes, or relief that never came.

You’ve heard the arguments: God answers in his own time, in his own way. Maybe the things I’ve prayed for were not in my best interest.

And that’s where my head and my heart wonder: what’s the point?


As the conversation with my friend continued, I felt compelled to explain my position. I’m sure it surprised him that I didn’t give the most Christian of answers. In reality I’m really struggling with my faith. The older I get, the harder it is, too.

Yes, I believe a power greater than ourselves created everything including us. Our world, this universe? It’s all too complex and elegant and much of it beautiful to be purely random.

Yes, I believe in the power of good thoughts – that we literally send vibrations out into the world and they can be good or bad – and I’m a person who genuinely wishes well on my fellow man so I try hard to emit positive vibes all the time to everyone let alone to specific people and situations that warrant an extra flood of love.

I hear the Bible talk about how we all have talents we shouldn’t hide, and I interpret that to mean God gives us great means to care for ourselves and so we should, and we shouldn’t worry about whether we can do it – be like the lily in the field in that regard.

I’m well aware I do have so much going for me, and since God seems to ignore me when I do appeal to him (maybe because the lessons I’ve learned in life is that whatever I want is truly entirely up to me to go get), I don’t see the point of prayer other than to give thanks. Giving thanks is something I do. Prayers of thanks don’t do much to heal a broken heart, I’ve learned, but I give thanks anyway.

Over the years I’ve spoken to different priests about this. One of them has even agreed with my approach to not ask God for anything. He suggested that I simply engage in conversation with him by giving thanks and saying, “hi”. To be honest, that didn’t do much to help me grow closer to God.

My friend challenged me to answer the question, “What does Jesus mean to me?” and that’s when I truly bristled. I know what the “right” answer is. Yes, he is God’s son who died for our sins. But aren’t we all God’s children? And yes, he was innocent, but um…aren’t there hundreds of examples of innocents who die even more horrific deaths at the hands of evil? Examples that flood our smart phones on a daily basis? I’m really struggling with how the events of two millennia ago relate to me, today. I wonder what in the world is wrong with me that I don’t feel the connection that apparently every other Christian does.

It all feels so strange. In a year when my convert husband was elected president of our church, I find myself pulling away more and more. I have learned the hard way that some things are unknowable. This feels like one of them.

I’m ashamed to admit it. My sisters don’t have this crisis of faith. My old friend was likely very disheartened to hear my position – you see, he’s grown much closer to God over the years. I found myself unable to relate.

On one hand I admire people who are steadfast and strong in their faith but I really struggle – more than I should – to relate to them. You see, I put my trust in prayer and God for years, yet when I reflected on what came of it, I felt abandoned, not loved. I find myself reluctant to get stung like that again, especially when I have always tried to be a good person. Nowadays, I trust myself far more than an unseen, invisible, presumably benevolent force. The Bible even warns us about these very things, yet here I am. I guess that’s arrogance at its worst.

This isn’t to say I haven’t asked for prayers over the years. I can count on one hand how many times I have legitimately asked for prayers among my family and friends. One of those times, even my sister commented that it must be something weighing very heavy on my heart for me to ask for help. And you know what? I still struggled. I don’t know that it helped.

And maybe my current perspective is exactly why I’m struggling with happiness. The irony is not lost on me.

Strange, isn’t it? They say confession is good for the soul. Perhaps. I’m just baring mine so that others don’t feel quite so alone if they’re struggling with the same thing. Quite possibly this is what it means to be a broken Christian. I never claimed to be without sin.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Missing: me

Honestly, it wasn’t even planned. It’s not like I consciously thought about taking a break from writing. I just stopped.

For SIX MONTHS.

Which is incredibly weird because if you’ve gotten to know me, you know I definitely have things to say.

Mostly I have enjoyed puppy parenthood, immensely. Zoe will turn 1 this month, and her 5-pounds of pure wiggle greets me at the kitchen door every day after I come home from work. Even the kids don’t do that anymore. She is the perfect little addition to our home.

Actually we are all completely smitten by her. It’s almost an insult to call her our dog. She is this adorable little being who is every bit a part of our family as anyone else. I’ve said it before but it’s true: she is the most popular heartbeat in our house.

Eventually I will get around to writing more about her and the things I’ve learned over the course of the last several months, including things that have tested my courage, the bittersweet ways our family is growing up, the value of friendship, the paradox of privacy, and the way the nights of November bring forth a sort of life reckoning.

For now, I just wanted to break the silence and let you know I’m still around, still pondering life while trying to live it. I haven’t gone missing. Still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Hope all is well in your world, too.

Photo by unknown artist on Pexels

Power Woman

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Had an odd thing happen at work today, something that gave me pause for several reasons. We have consultants doing an assessment for us over 13 weeks and it’s about halfway done. They’re conducting a series of interviews with personnel in different departments. I’ve participated in a few of the meetings, both as an interviewee and observer/contributor.

This young female attorney is part of the team. She’s whip smart, confident, stylish, and attractive. The whole package. Frankly the whole team is relatively young and incredibly sharp. Sigh. Reminds me of the days when I was younger, sitting on the other side of the table, flying around the country doing similar work. You learn a massive amount of knowledge in a short period of time working as a consultant, and I miss those days sometimes. What an incredible way to build a foundation for a career.

Notice I said “when I was younger” and not “when I was young”. I don’t care what my chronological age is, I’m not old. I may not be the youngest in the room, I may even be the oldest in the room, but I am not old. That’s the one of the beautiful things about being so intensely curious, you don’t have time to grow old in mind or spirit. Forever young.

Anyway this young woman seeks me out to grab a cup of coffee to continue talking about one of the matters that arose during the interviews, and I was happy to oblige. Part of me was surprised, because outreach from younger people rarely happens, so I wondered if there was more to the request.

Shortly after the conversation began, she confessed she sought me out deliberately. “Ever since law school, everywhere I go, I look around for the power women.” That’s who she wants to know and she’s taking the time in her consulting career right now to meet these women wherever they are across the country since our industry doesn’t have an influx of women in it. She wanted to understand how I got into my line of work, what my experience has been, how I balance career and life, and where I think our industry is going.

We talked for nearly two hours. Our chemistry was immediate, and frankly, it was incredibly cool. I learned about how she immigrated from western Asia as a pre-schooler in the mid-90s and how she was he first in her family to go to college, let alone law school. How the professional and personal path she is carving for herself is very different from her family of origin, and it is important to her to seek mentors. When she goes home, she has no one to guide or advise her because they don’t understand her career or lifestyle, nor do they always agree with her choices. Choices that look very smart to me, but nevertheless radically different than what her family knows.

I sat across from her, humbled, honored, and full of admiration for her initiative. I wished there were women mentors like that available to me when I was her age. When I was her age, my office had one woman partner who was strangely aloof toward the younger women staff. She finally softened up in her late 40s, only after she learned she was dying from cancer. She passed a few days after she turned 50. Back then I wished there was a thing called LinkedIn where I could easily remain in touch with the few women I did meet. I’ve been on LinkedIn since 2002 or 2003 but it seems like only now is this the day and age where staying professionally connected online is a thing. And good for my coffee date to have the foresight to network like a boss early on in her career.


Now part of what made today feel so good was the ego-stroking, I’ll admit. I admired my new friend from across the consulting table and the feeling was mutual? And even better: she called me a power woman.

Damn straight, I am.

I may not know everything there is to know in my line of work but no one does. I’m curious, bright, and a holistic and strategic thinker. I can figure things out. I’m resourceful enough to know who I need to collaborate with internally and externally to my company to make things happen and I have the initiative to do it, so I do. I see the sweet spot where company need, my skill set, and my interests all intersect and frankly, I am one of the only people I know who can pull it all together. Deep in my bones, I know that about me and I have total confidence in my ability to deliver.

But this is where the conversation felt odd and I wanted to be dismissive: I don’t claim the “power woman” label. Ever. I know I should own it, but part of me is too humble to go there. Part of me was looking over each shoulder to see who she was talking about. Did she actually mean me?

Now the crazy thing is, humility can be a good thing – and sometimes I hear overpowering Christian messages to be humble – but humility is not helpful when you’re eager to contribute and live a life of meaning. It often requires stepping far outside your comfort zone. And the Bible even guides us not to hide our talents under a bushel.

But back to humility: I mentally struggle with whether I have arrived at a place of enough significance in my own life and with my own accomplishments to own the “power woman” title. At what point have I actually “arrived”? I don’t know the answer to that question.

I come from such humble beginnings, the fact that I even went to college for an undergraduate degree was a big deal. The knowledge I’ve gained since then is enormous. And the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

Take the case of some volunteer work I’ve agreed to do. I have reluctantly joined the finance committee of a non-profit. I say reluctantly because I struggle to think I’m the smartest financial mind to tackle the issues at hand. Surely there have to be others who are more qualified.  But there aren’t. It’s me. I have what it takes, and what it takes is someone to step up. And now that I have, I’m committed to solving the problems. I can’t just kick the can down the road when I know a better way to handle it. Part of me wants to blow everyone away with improvements (seriously, the running list in my head is already endless) but I also need to pace myself being that it is volunteer work after all and I don’t need to burn myself out. Nor should I drive changes at a pace that overwhelms everyone involved. So yeah, I am the power woman who can make it work.

Still, it’s hard work to strip away the limits I put on myself. I can keep growing if I so choose, and I know this to be true because I’ve proven it over three decades of professional life.


I mentioned before that courage is my word for 2019, and I’ve challenged myself with a couple of quotes:

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

And this one:

There is no passion to be found in playing small and settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. – Nelson Mandela  

Both of those are meant to jolt me awake, especially the Mandela quote which truly speaks to me.

Still, I told my coffee date about how I don’t consider myself a power woman, and we laughed about it. We both knew the story of Oprah who was asked to give Harvard’s commencement speech, and she was nervous about it. She wondered if she was good enough to live up to the honor, it being Harvard after all.

But she’s OPRAH. She practically written the book on how to carve a life of meaning on your own terms.  

And my coffee date and I then laughed over the story of how Beyonce turned to Oprah on another occasion, and asked whether her performance was likewise “good enough”.

Queen Bey said what? 

Both of these women are powerhouses in their respective fields, frankly superstars who have transcended their original line of work to be true artists, and they’re asking the same question? The same question I’m asking? 

At least I’m in good company. 

I know you’re not supposed to care what other people think of you, but I do. I don’t want to look or be foolish or arrogant. There are plenty of men and women with titles higher than the one I hold right now, and frankly, you could easily argue that it is their responsibility to make the magic happen, not mine. But then I think of yet another quote: 

Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It’s about one life influencing another. – John C. Maxwell 

I also think of a friend of mine, this intoxicatingly strong woman, a power woman if ever I met one. She’s a surgeon, author, and pioneer in her chosen specialty. She tweets pictures of herself and her activities with the hashtag #Ilooklikeasurgeon to educate people what women do and how they succeed in the STEM fields. My admiration for her is through the roof. 

We had a recent conversation about self-worth which spawned another hashtag, this one called #knowyourworth, and I know this: my current title is no indication of my value. I know my value. I know my stuff, yet I am likewise savvy enough to recognize the need for expert advice to close the gaps on things I don’t know. I often think I need to own my worth to the same degree as I know it, taking my cue from my surgeon friend. 

But my coffee date? What a way to start a Monday.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Thoughts on Notre Dame

adventure-ancient-architecture-705766By now so much has already been written about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I remember first seeing the headline as an alert on my phone and my heart sunk. I had visited Paris 20 years ago – how can a generation have passed already? – and my oldest son is slated to visit Paris in June as part of a school trip. Would it be there for him to see?

Notre Dame was the first landmark I visited in Paris. I had already been to England and Westminster Abbey was my favorite among all the places I had visited in London so it was only natural for me to head straight to Our Lady since it was a short walk from my hotel in the St. Germain district.

The cathedral was free to visit. I found an English-speaking tour guide straight away and followed her around to learn more. I really should have done some homework on churches before I went, but I was young. What did I know?

It’s instantly humbling to learn that this massive monument was over 800 years old and took centuries to build. I was immediately and constantly comparing the age of places and buildings in Europe to the fact that my own country was a little over 200 years old at the time. You get a sense for your place in the world. You lose some of your arrogance. As an American, this is a good thing.

A church over 800 years old.

Over 800 years old! C E N T U R I E S to build.

182 years to be exact.

The cathedral was gorgeous. Massive. There really aren’t enough words to describe the intricacies of the architectural details other than they were everywhere you turned. The stories of people involved in creating the structure made me laugh, like how one of the lead architects had his own image carved into the face of saint on one of the outdoor sculptures so that he could be memorialized at the cathedral, and how this same statue was erected on the roof near the spire, with its back turned away from another cathedral in town where a rival architect was hired instead to build that structure.

Despite the jaw-dropping beauty of the place, an uneasy, undeniable feeling of conflict washed over me at Notre Dame simultaneously. For the first time in my 28 years, it hit me how much money and grandeur was devoted to a building instead of the people whose souls it was supposed to nurture.

Now of all structures humans can conceive and build, a sacred space is an excellent one to make beautiful. Of all buildings, why not construct a gathering place for hundreds that is architecturally calming, gorgeous, inspirational, and timeless for the glory of God? Why not construct a place that could stand for centuries?

Yes, setting foot in Notre Dame changed my life. The other feeling that overwhelmed me simultaneously was how consumer-driven Americans were. How, other than perhaps our Constitution which was created by a small number of brilliant men, nothing we Americans build is intended to stand the test of time. It struck me hard how everything we buy and own is temporary, throwaway, disposable. Images of the run-down homes and trailer parks in my hometown flashed through my head, with sagging porches, paint flaking on the exterior, junk littering the yard. These conditions are not limited to Ohio. I saw them everywhere in my travels across the US. I was embarrassed for who we were, who we had become, and how we let ourselves live this way.

Notre Dame was the first, and perhaps only place, that taught me what it meant to build a legacy. I walked away a changed woman.


Earlier this week, it took my breath away to see first images of the roof completely consumed with flames, to see the spire engulfed with fire. To watch over 800 years worth of history going up in smoke, seeing Parisians gathered along the banks of the Seine with hands to their mouths, witnessing the French on their knees, singing hymns. Time stood still.

I could not wrap my head around the fact that something that had stood on this earth for so long – through revolution, world wars and bombings and occupation, pollution, crisis in the Catholic church, neglect and restoration – could burn to the ground before our eyes. Would it make it?

Despite having toured the place, I didn’t know about the various relics inside…somehow I had missed that the crown of thorns is believed to be housed there….and whether they were salvaged. I wondered whether we would witness a miracle.

And I cried because we are sending our son off to Europe to view grandeur for himself, and maybe, just maybe, he would be changed inside as a result of this trip the same way my husband and I were when we made our individual pilgrimages so long ago. If only Notre Dame would be there for him to see. What were the odds that this beautiful structure would be destroyed just a few months before he made the trip? No matter what he would be unable to see the inside for himself this time. If there would ever be another time for him.

I slept fitfully that night of the fire, unable to shake the feeling that the whole world lost something so utterly beautiful, significant, and sacred. One of the few things built to last forever could not. And maybe it was a terrible sign of our times, that life as we know it is coming to an end.


Within hours of the tragedy, a French billionaire pledged a ridiculous sum to rebuild the cathedral. President Macron had already declared it was France’s destiny that the cathedral would continue on.

I get it. I get wanting something beautiful and sacred and enduring to last forever.

Yet the familiar feeling of conflict washed over me again. Notre Dame would be rebuilt, and people would rush to donate to make it happen.

But it is just a building, specifically a church that exists to minister to souls. Souls who were suffering then and suffering now. Why can’t the influx of funds be put toward relieving the suffering of people? Why do we value things over people? Where are the billionaires who rush to help souls?

Maybe I have it wrong. Maybe Notre Dame isn’t a church built to minister to souls. Maybe it’s ultimately a monument to God. And while that is a noble endeavor, we can’t possibly build anything more beautiful than the cathedrals God has already placed here on earth: the forests, the oceans, the mountains, and the plains. And we’re collectively destroying them.

Now I get that Notre Dame is a sacred space that obviously transcends time, and now that it’s built, I understand that we are its stewards, caring for it for the benefit of future generations.

I see this with my own church here in Ohio. I’m Orthodox Christian. Our church was formed nearly 100 years ago, and the parishioners built our current facility some years ago. Somewhere along the way, they devoted significant funds to paint every walled surface of the church with stunning iconographic images. This is very common within Orthodox churches and it’s a lovely tradition. The early church used pictures – icons – to share the teaching of the Bible because so few could read. For whatever reason, the Orthodox feel compelled to continue the tradition, as did the earlier patrons of my own church. And now that it exists, we are the stewards responsible for its upkeep.

But I am torn. I struggle mightily with the excessive use of funds toward a building when people all around us are sick, hungry, cold, tired, and hopeless. Isn’t THAT what we should be doing with our time and money? Or if we really felt compelled to devote funds toward infrastructure, shouldn’t we divert our wealth to maintaining the cathedrals of the earth that God gave us outright?

How did we lose sight of these things over the centuries? Do we Christians have an opportunity before us to rethink our priorities? Will we?

Photo by Ashley Elena from Pexels

 

Heartcheck

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Admittedly I’ve been a bit busy as a new puppy mama. If you only knew how I have a half-dozen posts in the works and ideas for countless more that I haven’t even started yet but I do. Hopefully I can find my groove and hit the publish button a bit more often here.

Stay tuned. You’ll hear about our spring break trip to Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, how I decided to start therapy (and I’m proud of it), how I’m failing miserably at anything that resembles Lenten preparation, how I’ve fallen off the CrossFit bandwagon but hope to get back, things that make me crazy, my breast biopsy (the sequel), some classic non-fiction books I am reading, the art of Facebook unfriending, the ridiculous satisfaction of finishing everything on my to-do list, and maybe even my review of Cuba which was a trip we took a year ago this month. Of course you’ll hear about the puppy. We got it going on here, brothers and sisters!

What do you guys think? Should I prioritize a certain post over another? I’m all ears. Or you can even pose a topic or a question. Why not!

I get this is bit unusual for a blog post, but I figure a quick heartcheck is a good thing. Hope all is well wherever you happen to be.

Photo by Rawpixel on Pexels.com

Smiles for Miles

adult-blur-close-up-736842My husband came home late from a meeting the other night, and we sat at our kitchen
table while he replayed the details. I had my back to the kitchen door that leads to the 
outside. At some point, my husband stopped talking and silently motioned for me to peek img_1411over my shoulder. At some point, our little Zoe walked over to that very same door, sat like a pretty princess, and timidly pawed at the little “go-go” bell we installed, without actually ringing it. FOR THE FIRST TIME.

When she realized we were watching her, she paused. We excitedly asked, “Do you want to go potty?” And then she wagged her little tail like crazy, rang the bell, and out the door we went with big cheers and treats, to boot!

Mind you, we had the bell installed by the door for almost four weeks at that point, always taking her little paw to ring the bell before we took her outside for potty a few times a day. And yet, she would not do it on her own. Would not. She would just sit there and stare at it.

Every thought ran through my head:

  1. I thought Maltipoos were supposed to be smart.
  2. We managed to find the most stubborn one of the bunch?
  3. Is she too young for this yet?
  4. Oy, potty training is gonna take a long time, huh?
  5. Keep trying, mama, she will get it one day!
  6. People on Facebook and Amazon SWEAR by the power of the go-go bell.
  7. Go-go bell gods, I beg you to shower us with your blessings. Soon.
  8. My priest is going to schedule a confession with me if he reads this post for that last entry above.
  9. Darn it, if she isn’t THE CUTEST DOG EVER.

Seriously, didn’t Pavlov already prove that bells work?


Back to The Night of Pure Magic. We were so proud of her! We cheered so loud! She rang that bell like a champ four more times in a row, even though it was raining outside, to our complete amusement. 16 weeks old and she rang the bell like a champ.

Makes me think of that scene in one of the Rocky movies where Rocky and Apollo Creed casually box in the ring by themselves with their mouth guards in and one of them says, “Ding ding,” to kick it all off.


She’s 18 weeks old now, and she’s a lot smarter than I gave her credit for. She knows that treats come with ringing the bell, so now she doesn’t necessarily always go potty outside.  Sometimes it’s a sniff-for-all in the yard (kinda like a free-for-all, but puppy style) with a bonus treat. The kids don’t always police to make sure she actually goes potty so we have a bit of work to do to make sure she does it. And sometimes she grants me a courtesy 2-second squat.

Sneaky, that little Zoe. img_1410

Man, do we love that puppy.

The entire household is completely smitten with her. I mean, head over heels. The five of us sound like Alvin and Chipmunks when we talk to her.

Even our oldest, the 15 year-old who was very reluctant to get another dog, is in total puppy love. He completely breaks down, dimples popping left and right, talking in soprano high voice, asking for kissies. I mean, it’s totes adorbs. I have never seen him smile so much. Smiles for miles. You have no idea how happy that makes me feel.

Our house has been magically transformed by this little, four-pound ball of fluff.

 

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels

Dreaming in Spanish

vanveenjf-1132224-unsplashWhen I was a little girl, my Aunt Kay gave our family a series of books about different countries. I suspect it was a hand-me-down from her daughter who had outgrown them; I got a lot of things that were once my cousin’s.

Each book highlighted key facts about each country: where it was located in the world, its major cities and landmarks, what language the people spoke, how the people dressed, what the landscape looked like, what goods the country was famous for. We had one book each for Switzerland, Holland, France, Italy, and Hawaii, maybe a few others but I remember those five. You can tell the books were a little old because they treated Hawaii  like its own country, which of course it was at one time. However the color pictures and subject matter made the books timeless in a way.

My favorite part of the book was a short glossary or dictionary key words in the language of the country, such as hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. I found it fascinating that there were languages other than English but certain phrases, like those, were universal.

The fact that there were other languages was not a surprise to me, even at the youngest of age. My parents spoke another language at home, their parents’ native tongue, not really Slovak and not really Polish. Many years later, I learned that this dialect had a name, “pono shomu”, that people in the Carpatho-Rusyn region of eastern Europe would understand. I need to track down the reference but I think the literal translation of pono shomu is “what we speak”. I have no idea whether I’m even spelling the language properly. It’s the closest phonetic spelling I could muster.

Carpatho-Rusyns are a people without a country. I am only now starting to learn more about these people, their hardships, and their lack of a national identity.  Andy Warhol is its most famous descendant.

My parents didn’t teach us kids that language. They used this exclusivity to their advantage: when they didn’t want us kids to know what or who they were talking about, they would switch languages right in front of us. They did it constantly with each other and my aunts and uncles.

It had the effect of making me feel like an outsider, someone not part of the club. It’s funny to me how some immigrant families were so proud to be American citizens they completely abandoned their native culture and language to become fully Americans. Others were so proud of their roots, like the Greeks, they taught their children and their children’s children, the native language and kept alive all of the same customs.

In turn, I had no interest in the culture of my people and I still recoil whenever I hear anyone speak Slovak, which happens routinely at church. Funny how my parents, descended from a people without a country of their own, cultivated an environment where they excluded me, their own flesh and blood. They had zero clue the impact it had on me.

I always considered myself a citizen of the world, anyway. Maybe it was the influence of those books so long ago. Maybe it was the “It’s a Small World” album Aunt Kay also gave me, the album I played on endless repeat.


Learning other languages was like playing detective, cracking the code. I remember well the day I learned you could become an interpreter. People actually got paid to translate several languages? That was a dream come true!

My mom operated a beauty shop in the basement of our home. The Mel sisters, Jesse, Dina, and Daisy came weekly to get their hair done, and they were stationed in various seats in the salon. I bounced down the wooden stairs of our house, flung the door open, and proudly announced to my mother and the Mel sisters that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was going to be an interpreter and work for the United Nations!

Mom scoffed at me immediately, “Oh, that’s too hard. You’ll never learn how to do all that!” Jesse and her sisters silently witnessed the exchange.

Defeated, smaller than moments before, I walked back upstairs and never gave it another thought. Not one. I was one obedient little girl alright, doing exactly what I was told to do. I didn’t have the wherewithal to know and value and follow what was intrinsically in my heart, nor did I have an understanding of agency to act on it.


Fast forward to high school, in the early 80s. My school offered two languages: Spanish and Latin. Being the 80s in small town Ohio, I didn’t see what benefit Spanish would ever be to me.

Isn’t that quaint? Isn’t that so stereotypical small town American?

I told myself I would study Latin, since it was the root of so many languages, and used in science, medicine, and law. Surely I would go on to study in one of those fields and it would be useful to me.

That didn’t happen either.

Latin was hard. Harder than I had hoped. Nothing clicked. The construct of the sentences was so, understandably, foreign. I learned a few words but I couldn’t speak it. I hadn’t mastered conjugation of verbs in English let alone in Latin. I have no idea how I passed the class other than Mrs. Schulenberg graded on a massive curve.


Fast forward to 10 years post high school. I was headed to France and England for the first time on vacation, by myself, because I couldn’t find a friend who was interested in making the trip and could afford it. I bought a book to learn a few phrases in French.

The book was marginally helpful to recognize some words but I had no idea if I was pronouncing them correctly. I muddled through. It helped that I spent part of my time visiting with a French woman I had befriended in college. She came to the United States for one semester to study at The Ohio State University as part of her business school program, and we were paired since I too was in the business school and volunteered to serve as a host of sorts to our foreign classmates.


Fast forward to today. It amazes me that things like iPhone apps exist, and among the offerings is one called Duolingo, where you can study other languages for free. The studying is structured like a game, one that is fun to play.

So what am I doing? About 10 days ago I started studying Spanish and French. About 15-20 minutes a day, that’s it. I can do it while I’m waiting. I can hear the pronunciation too. I tried Russian, but the words are written with the Cyrillic alphabet and that just pushed me over the edge so I am tabling it for now. Maybe I’ll have some mental bandwidth to pick it up another time and tackle Italian so I’m ready for that trip when we go in a few years.

My husband’s ancestry is Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese. And now he’s learning Hawaiian on Duolingo. My preteen daughter just started learning Mandarin. My teenage son is headed to France this summer as part of a school trip even though he doesn’t know a lick of French, however he’s typically dismissive of suggestions so I doubt he’ll practice before he goes despite me coaching him.


Last night before I fell asleep, I spent some time on my iPad practicing my Spanish. It’s going well. I’m pretty excited that it prompts me to translate a simple English sentence into Spanish which I can do without coaching or hints.

I love words, and it’s been fun to see which ones are similar and different across the few languages I have had exposure to.

The kicker was this: last night, I dreamt I was stuck on a boat in a Chicago with people who looked like they might speak Spanish. I didn’t have a cell phone on me, but I realized I could ask them, in Spanish, for a phone or to dial a number for me, and then I recited a phone number I knew in Spanish: “ocho cero cero,”… blah blah blah, “siete cero cero cero”. And I was surprised and utterly delighted, even in my dream, that I knew how to say it.

Maybe the whole dream wasn’t in Spanish, but it’s a start. I’m finally living out the other kind of dream of mine from long ago, one way or another.

 

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash