I speak two languages, three if you count the French I’m learning now. It is the third language that gives me difficulty. Try as I might to express complex ideas or abstract thoughts, French always comes up short compared to my native tongue. When I am not sure how to explain my emotions, or show how much I care about people, or even leave a conversation without seeming rude, I struggle and fumble my way through. My difficulties in self-expression make me feel like I am living a sort of half-life. No matter what I say, people here will only be able to know half of me, the half that I can express in French. It’s worse than feeling like a child; I feel incomplete, like some fundamental piece of me has been stripped away.
But I realize that I also know some other languages, ones that don’t always require words and are international in whatever culture I may find myself. The first language is food. While I can’t claim to be an excellent cook, I do know my way around a kitchen. There is something so comforting about helping mine hostess prepare fruit pies by peeling pears and apples. There are words, but they are not important. The action is what matters, the preparation of the food and the cleaning of dishes afterwards.
The second language I know is music. I’ve actually forgotten most of my formal training, but I know chords now since I play the guitar. Originally it was something that I did for myself. I didn’t need to impress anyone, so I played for my own joy and to feel God’s pleasure. But I am surprised at how many people want to learn the guitar, and how something like music can form a connection between strangers. The letters that matter are the names of the chords and not in the words we speak. The sound that swells rich like chocolate through the air carries our words and our hopes. It is everything we don’t say.
I may not speak perfect French. I hope to one day. But for now, I will use my other languages to connect, to reach other people and to form friendships. And then maybe the half-life will become a little more complete.