A few months back, I decided to learn Spanish by Christmas. Sometimes it feels like I’ve hardly learned anything. Other times, I feel immersed in a new world.
An Axe For the Frozen Sea
I’ve read that a new language opens a new world. But this means more than the distant worlds, the strange fairylands of Spain or Mexico. The new world already opens around me. Warm shafts of light are illuminating and changing the things I thought I knew. They’re coming to life.
It’s like peeking behind a scratched plastic bus stop shelter, and finding, in the brick of some building, a tiny wooden door for leprechauns. Or like seeing your grandparents run into old friends at the bowling alley. Their eyes light up, their voices shake off the sleep, and their laughter erupts.
Kafka said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Spanish might not yet have shattered my inner glacier, but I’m discovering odd patches of luxuriant growth on the bald old ice. Slowly, the green spreads.
New Words for Old
Why? Because words connect things. When I feel half-dead and wintry, I don’t always get much help from these well-worn English words I’ve been using for three decades. Their strands are tangled, attached to too many memories and moods and even almost-forgotten pain. It takes an effort akin to poetry to really hear a familiar word (say, “fork”), and see the thing in all its strangeness.
But … el tenedor. What is this tenedor that suddenly confronts me? A bizarre, powerful device.
What is this alternate dimension where tenedors and cucharas and cuchillas and platos scatter around a mesa?
Mesa. For an instant, my table is a desert mesa, and we eat on a great plateau like giants. Table could never do that for me.
Of course, with only a little thought, table can lead to a collection of Thanksgivings (some lovely, some horrid), to Aslan’s Stone Table, even the Last Supper … but it usually doesn’t. Not without effort.
Meanwhile, these new words make instant poetry. I’m renaming the world.
And these new names bring the power to free things from that old pain. When you’re a child, words like “God” and “love” can be ruined by the wrong kind of giant. Now the giants have shrunken and gone, but some of the old strands are thick as suspension bridge cables, not easily cut. I’ve had many new thoughts since childhood, but the old words can still, without warning, dredge the old stagnant lakes.
But … Dios is someone entirely different, entirely new. And Dios me ama.