I’m not talking about pottymouth. (Although maybe I should, because when Beatrix said, “Shudup Dampa” to my dad, we all knew she learned that from me.)
Language is a tool for communication, and one that I struggle to use well. For the last years especially, I have laboured to simply understand and be understood. I have worked to simplify my English words, and change them so that instead of being “correct,” the people I am speaking to will be able to understand my meaning. I have struggled to express myself in a language I am far from proficient at, and listened as others with widely varying levels of English vocabulary and grammar have tried to communicate things to me. My goal has been to hear the heart and meaning of what people are saying beyond the words they are using.
And here I find myself in the midst of a country where politeness and political correctness are kings.
I hate political correctness. And yet… the way we say things represents certain ideas that we may or may not agree with. And these ideas are usually so loaded, so hurtful to the people they target. There are so many examples of racist and sexist language, but let me use as an example one that is new to me, that I have been working on for the last couple of months: suicide.
You’re not supposed to say someone “committed suicide” anymore, because this language conveys the idea that suicide is a crime. Obviously, this is not a topic we would ever discuss lightly. But what shall I say instead? I’m not sure how to speak of it in a way that conveys what I believe: that there is mental illness involved, and any chance I have to remove the condemnation from mental illness, I would like to do that. I’m not happy with the idea that “she died of suicide.” I would also like to show that there is an element of choice involved too, it is not entirely passive, like being struck by lightning. Could it be a verb? “He suicided?” I haven’t found language yet that expresses this well.
I’m also struggling to find the right language to talk about our loss. If I euphemize too much, it only increases people’s curiousity about the gory details. “Beatrix died,” is altogether too blunt and shocking. There is no way to say it without it being horrifying (because it is), but I would like to be able to soften it a little bit so that I am not springing the full weight of the tragedy on someone all of a sudden. I’m not happy with “she passed away,” its too passive. Neither am I happy with, “we lost her,” because to me that implies we don’t know what happened to her.
Several years ago, a wonderful, sweet, kind man whom we love, had a brain tumor. Don went from healthy, to very sick, to death very quickly. He worked with YWAM and was involved with many of us across the country. We were so happy to see his wife Gwen at the YWAM conference in August. Someone said something, I don’t know who or what – I think it was something about missing Don, but Gwen snapped to attention, and just said, “Yes. Don’s missing.” I knew it was a profound moment at the time, but now recognize it is part of her struggle to put language to what she has experienced.
The last aspect to this, is that there are things I can’t say anymore. We were visiting a relative who has four wonderful little girls, and she was apologizing for the state of her house (as we all do). My thoughts are – who cares? You have to prioritize how you use your time, and if your house is messy and your kids are thriving, you are using your time wisely. So I started with what is pretty much standard for me, “Well, your kids are alive, happpy….” I didn’t get to finish because her face crumpled and I realized that this has taken on a whole new meaning, coming from me.
My cousin has three littles under the age of 4. I have loved getting to know him again as adults, and love his wife. They are incredible parents, and are some of the people I observe so that I can learn to be a better parent. When her last baby was born, her motto for what she would allow her kids to do became, “Will it kill them? No? Well, then its OK.” Its a joke, that I think expresses a belief that experience is a good teacher, and also the sheer exhaustion that is common to all moms of littles. Its funny in a way that shows camaraderie, but I expect she won’t say it around me anymore.
And finally, some friends of ours did a marathon road trip – from Nova Scotia to Calgary and back again. On travelling days, they drove for something like 8-10 hours. With three small children. Wow. When they arrived home, about a month after they had left, I wanted to send them a text message that said, “CONGRATULATIONS! You all survived!” But it seemed rather sinister, so I said nothing.
Parenting littles is hard. And just making it through each day, with a small scrap of sanity left, is a huge achievement. Its hard to remember that in the midst of each day, though. I usually use the language of survival to try to express encouragement and hope to parents.
I’m going to have to find new language.