On Language and Connection

The world is a lot bigger than we think it is. It’s also quite full of persons. And, yes, I meant to write “persons” instead of “people” because I think it better emphasizes the fact that every single person that you bump into—trust me, the chica writing this blog bumped into a LOT of persons amidst the insanely crowded streets of Semana Santa — has their own story. It’s kind of crazy and overwhelming and beautiful to sit at a café here in Sevilla and watch all the gente walking past; especially during a week when you may see a Spaniard pass by, followed by a couple Germans, a few Japanese, an old English couple, definitely several French, and maybe even some Americans. As my señora, María, likes to say: Todo el mundo y su hermana está aqui—the whole world and their sister is here.

All the languages that you hear swirl around in your head in a strange sort of dance and you realize something. It comes to your mind quietly amidst the noisy streets: “I will never speak enough languages.” And it’s true. But that does not mean you should ever stop trying. Language isn’t a couple credits on your transcript or a frustrating project you can’t seem to finish. It isn’t a presentation that you fumble through or a class that you sleep through because it’s just required. Language is connection.

When I traveled to Granada, Spain, I stayed in a hostel and my roommate was a Colombian woman who has been traveling around Europe for the past two years, living out of one suitcase, finding and analyzing cave paintings to obtain her degree as an artist. We talked for two hours and I could have talked for five more. When I went to Guatemala last September I met Salvador, who listened patiently to my less-than-native grammatical structures and told me without hesitation that he wanted to be a lion when I asked him what animal he would be. He was the driver for our mission team and we never ran out of things to talk about on the long rides. When I took my penny whistle (a sort of Irish flute) to my volunteer site here in Spain one day and played for the kids, one little girl who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight looked me straight in the eye and said: “I understood everything that you said with your song.” What I’m trying to say is that none of those people spoke English and had I not been able to speak Spanish, I would have lived my life and passed them by.

As a Christian, I have been called to love; and, let me tell you, it is a whole lot harder to hate a person when you speak their language, when you’ve experienced their culture, and when you have listened to their story. It doesn’t matter if you forget to use the subjunctive every now and then (subjunctive, ugh) or if you don’t always conjugate your verbs just right; what matters is that you put in the effort and care enough to keep going even when it’s hard—even when you’ve “invented” three words in the last hour. It’s worth it for the persons. And this world is quite full of them. And it is so, so much bigger than we think it is.  

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