Saturday, February 27, 2010

linguistic ineptitude

Once, while I was in the army, I met my father in Paris. We had met before in Germany and I was the one who spoke the language better and could find out what we needed to know. But in Paris, my father's French was better than mine, so, when something was relatively important, he did the talking.

It wasn't that I was utterly lost in French. I had taken quite a lot of it in college and could catch the drift of most conversations, but I was not fluid enough to have a serious verbal ping-pong match, as I could in German.

One night, as we sat in some student-packed restaurant with a group of French people, the conversation was lively and friendly. People wanted to know where we were from and what we did. When they heard that I was in the army, there were a lot of snide remarks I was in no position to rebut ... though I could understand well enough: Military life was the life of murderers and assholes ... just look at Vietnam. a place where U.S. president John F. Kennedy was helping a full-blown bloodbath to develop.

I knew what they were saying but did not have language that would allow me to answer in their own tongue. I felt confused and cranky ... I knew what they were saying, but....

And that, these days, is sometimes how I feel when in the company of Zen Buddhists who are well-versed in teachings I recognize as true things, but I haven't got the linguistic facility to play the game in their terms. This inability makes me loath to open my mouth. When people are on their own frequency, I like to encourage them according to their frequency, not my frequency.

And so, when someone starts talking about "samadhi" or "prajna" or "sunyata" or "nirmanakaya" ... well, I feel as if I am back in that French restaurant, knowing that things refer to something I take seriously, but without the linguistic facility to play on that playground. And worse, I no longer want to play on that playground. I know what is going on and I agree with the direction, often, but I don't any longer have the energy -- and certainly not the skill -- to care much.

French is a perfectly good language. German is a perfectly good language. English is a perfectly good language. Zen Buddhism is a perfectly good language. You are a perfectly good language. I am a perfectly good language. There is no topic any of them might overlook.

Nuff said ... though sometimes I do feel wistful.

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