To Speak In Words You Understand

Or, Language, Prayers and People – by Hannah.

I heard the words of two young women across the cafeteria, a familiar tongue.  Foreign words, only some that I could understand.  But they were speaking in the language of the book before me, with sentences I had marked with my pen.  What if I said something?  I was frozen until something in me thawed.  あなたは日本語を話しますか? (Do you speak Japanese?)  I asked.  Well, of course she did, but I didn’t know what else to say.

Life can be a very solitary event, if we let it be.

We don’t have to acknowledge or give our thanks to the bus driver that takes us from place to place, or smile at the cashier in a grocery store.  We don’t have to sit near anyone at lunch in the cafeteria.  We do not have to engage in conversations with strangers.  We can hear without listening.  We can live without giving.  We can work without networking.  We can walk from room to room and building to building without extending, reaching or seeking words or glances with others.  Essentially, much of our daily communication depends on our individual energy level, mood, and personality.  More than that, I might suggest that sometimes it depends on the state of the soul.

Perhaps often we live as if it is shrunken, rather than risk having it expanded.  Some of us have seen people build additions onto houses.  It is not an easy process, and there is difficulty in the waiting.  There are leaky roofs and sawdust.  In life, with the expansion of one’s heart come doubts and discomfort.  Yet what rewards there are in “ordinary” kindness!

A friend told me about how God had placed on her heart to pray for people that she saw on a road toward her college.  Each day she watched families gardening, playing, sunbathing, working.  But it’s just a commute.  Or perhaps an opportunity.  Perhaps those prayers are needed.  Later she met in person one of the women she had prayed about during her drives.  Words were shared, memories were made.  It meant something to both of them, to have that kind of a connection.  This is not a lone example of changing one’s perspective, or of learning about community, and I hope that you have similar stories to tell.  To return to my earlier story..

I could have stayed safely between the pages of a book about how to communicate in the language I have come recently to care about, rather than communicating with the few words I had.  A book of language – a collection of meaningful phrases – meant to inspire such conversation, rather than provide shelter from it.  Yes, sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. 

I have realized, in recent travels abroad, that I don’t want to be a foreigner, I want to be a friend.  A co-worker.  A person.  I desire to share in life with others, and to speak in words that they will understand.  And right now, my heart bridges across an ocean to Japan from where I recently returned- but there are international students here, too, one foot dipped in American culture and the other anchored in Japan: trying to understand English the way I try to learn their native language.  

So, my head has been spinning this summer with kanji and syllabic scripts.  With symbols and phrases and words that have no purpose outside of community.  And I am learning to use them, too.. 

Oh, how simple it is to speak sentences, yet how often we overlook the opportunity..  I know I have done so many times before.

Certainly we should not engage in conversations with everyone, and it is also true that sometimes lives do not collide in quite the same ways as in years past.  Relationships change, circles of influence do not stay stagnant.  However, what if we conversed with the people God put in our path every day?  Would we feel as lonesome or solitary?  Would we feel something like community?

Would we learn what God meant when He said love thy neighbor?  Perhaps the words to our prayers could become our actions.  Perhaps language could be more than symbols, and strangers could be friends.

To find out more about Hannah K., visit our writer’s page.

Art Credit: Pinterest

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