Saturday, November 15, 2008

First-person, plural

Adding fuel to the fire of the language-affects-thought debate. The English language has only one meaning for the first-person plural pronoun ("We" or "Us") and the context supplies (or does not supply) the rest of the information.

I'm not familiar with many other languages, but one I have some contact is Tagalog. It has three words, one for each meaning of the first person plural.

  1. Tayo: "we, all of us", including the person addressed. When we (tayo) are going to the movies, you are cordially included in the invitation. It is so intrinsic to how people relate that this word is often implied and not said: "Ka-in na!" Means "Eating now" but it really means, when a younger person says it, "I'm eating now, but I'm not comfortable eating because you haven't joined me." and the older person waves a blessing for the younger person to continue. When an older person says it, it means "You will eat now." allowing and requiring the younger to sit at table.

  2. Kamé: "only us", excluding the person addressed. Usually stated among equals or from older to younger "We (kamé) need to discuss your grades" means the child must steer clear of her parent's bedroom, and perhaps reread and take notes on the Noli Me Tangere before the test this week.

  3. Kita: "You and I". This word actually refers to a single entity and is used in special modes of address. It refers to the (single) person that exists from the unity of the speaker and the addressed. "Mahal kita" is the most often use of the word and a loose translation is "I love you." But its deeper meaning is "This single entity that is you and I together exists bound in love." Kita has no separation between the speaker and the one spoken to, because they are one. When he says "Mahal kita," and she roles her eyes and sighs, it is the unity of one single action. There is no love being sent out by one and then received by the other. The love simply subsists in the unity of the two.

Is not kita a description of the Triune God? Father and Son, I and Thou, and the Holy Spirit, Love Divine, connecting the Three-in-One? Reflecting on the annual homily of the Trinity, I find it now humorous, and obvious, that it's so difficult to explain this mystery to English speakers (and sad correlation: how few English-speakers get the Trinity), but the Philippines has a near 100% Catholic population: they don't need to get it, they have the concept imprinted on their minds, and consequently hearts and souls, from the day they commence speaking.

My first "I love you"

It's Saturday (one of the days not named in honor of the Æsir), so allowed Diane to sleep in (having craftily ensured her alarm-clock was disarmed). I like watching her sleep, as she has a peaceful nature in sleep that I wish would permeate her conscious moments more often.

The game was up, however, when little Lizzy clomped into the room and snuggled into bed beside me: "Até? Ma-pa? Papa?" She eventually matched my title to me: "I missed yooououooouuoouu..." I gave her hugs, as my cara spoza smirked with her eyes still closed, unwilling to give up on her restful moment.

"Isabel," I declared gravely, "you look just like your mother: so beautiful." Another smirk. The little one was restless, however, so I deflected her from her mother by telling her a story.

"Do you know the first time I ever said: 'I love you'?"
She solemnly shook her head, giving herself completely to the coming story.

The first time I ever said "I love you" it wasn't even in English. You see, the first time I saw your mother was in the choir. She was smiling so beautifully, and there was kindness in her eyes. I knew, right then, that I loved her.

After an uneven start, including the postlude to our second first-date (I took her to coffee then drove up to Connecticut to celebrate my birthday for that weekend. While there, I wrote a three-page letter declaring, in rather exuberant language, my love for her. My little sister watched me for a while, then, after she pressed, I allowed her to see the letter.

Me: "What do you think?"
Beki: "Do you ever want to see her again? She'll think you're a psychopath. Don't. Give. Her. That. Letter!"

Why is it that I must be lectured to in one word sentences?), we took to walking the trails of a nearby park. We prayed the Rosary together, talked about many and diverse topics, and sometimes held hands. This special time drifted forward calmly, a river meeting the sea, for several sweet months.

At the time, I worked at Coast Guard Headquarters with CWO Maglalang. His last name translates to "the Creation" from Tagalog. I asked him how to say "I love you" in his language. He cautioned me: in the Philippines, this was not something to be said lightly, I learnt that this declaration would commence courtship.

Fine by me.

As Diane and I walked back to her home that night, I was unusually quiet, averting my eyes. We arrived at the driveway, and she asked me about it.

I took her hand in my hands and looked into her eyes: "Mahal kita." I said. I love you.

She ripped her hand out of mine and jumped back five feet in an instant, shock written across her face. She quickly collected herself, leaning forward, leading with an angry index finger. "You had BETTER know what you're saying!" she shouted at me.

Isabel tinkled with laughter.

It was not the response I was expecting, but then, she always surprises me. After all, I was everything she didn't want in her life: American (the cultural and media juggernaut) and Military (the oppressor). To her, I was a walking nightmare of a stereotype. She didn't want marriage; she didn't want us; she didn't want a mommy van with the kids (yuck! she thought) in baby seats. She just wanted to finish her post-grad work in the U.S.A. and return home safely to the warmth of her family, and to a country where all her instincts weren't backwards and where the people spoke in her first language. She craved home.

Yet. For all that, and all that, she looked beyond herself, and she looked at me, and gave me herself. All of herself.

That's why I'm the luckiest man in the world. She gave me everything, and went against everything she thought she wanted in her life, and then gave me so much more, and now we have two living daughters that we like and we love. We have a house and we have our dreams, ... and we have hope and happiness.

She gave up everything for me, and I'm working as hard as I can to give her it all back, because when I said "I love you", and kept saying "I love you", she responded quickly one month later on the 4th of July, of all days, with a sighed "I love you, too."

"Magic" "Ice Cream"

I indulge myself at times.

Well, yes. Perhaps this is the first time I've indulged in understatement?

We were finished with dinner, when I asked the girls if they would like some dessert. They readily agreed, asking what I would produce. My answer: "Magic ice cream." How could this be? They probably wondered this, because we had no ice cream in the freezer.

I had their rapt attention.

I then raided the fridge, pulling out the cottage cheese and peach preserves, then I proceeded to the pantry escaping with nutella, valencia coffee flavoring and vanilla extract. My grocery shopping trips have not been in vain, as you see.

We gathered around the counter, and I scooped out a [small!] stone of cottage cheese into a bowl and then added each new ingredient, one by one, allowing the children to sample the scent for each new flavor: a smidge of valencia, two drops of vanilla, a teaspoon of peach preserves, and a glop of nutella.

The children were transfixed.

We each took turns stirring the admixture into an even consistency whilst my cara spoza snorted: "Children, Papa's just like your Pépé!"

The magic ingredient, I told the children, was the stone of cottage cheese. But remembering their glowing faces, I know I missed telling them the one special ingredient: love.

"Will you marry me?"

We were at table, eating breakfast ("magic" eggs and sweet Italian sausage), when the radio began playing some sweet and pure and joyful music. I sighed. "There is no composer, before or since, like Beethoven" — it was his second symphony. Not his best one, but much better than most of the rest of the world could ever produce.

Don't get me wrong: other composers — Chopin, Schubert, Mahler, Brahms, Vivaldi, Handel ... ugh, Mozart — are unexcelled in their own ways, but you know what you're getting with them. Beethoven has something in his music that is ineffable and impossible to demystify. Beethoven's music, whether heard for the first time or the fiftieth, is always surprising. Beethoven's catalogue of music, too, spans from the Classical to the Romantic to Polyphonic chant (his last quartet in A-flat minor is eternal, and listening to it never fails to make swallowing past the lump in my throat impossible), and he is not "stuck" in a genre as the other greats were.

Okay, Bach, also, wins here.

I mentioned this to my cara spoza highlighting that even Mahler's music, in the worshipful imitation of Beethoven's, still could not ascend the heavens as did his. She mentioned that she was not familiar with his music.

Hmphf! The very first thing I ever did was to invite my beloved to was Mahler's second symphony. She flat-out refused! ... I suppose it would have been helpful if I gave her more than a few hours notice before the concert. But still.

I encouraged her to do so (learn Mahler) and told her this story.

Once upon a time, Mahler proposed to his wife, Alma (née Schindler), by composing his Fifth symphony — his exquisite Fifth Symphony. She was also a composer of note. Her response: "I didn't know you were writing a percussive symphony." Mahler listened to her. He crossed out the entire percussive section and rewrote it, toned down by half. She accepted his proposal, and now we have one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the world because of her. The End.

My sweet and dainty cara spoza tilted her head, reflecting on all that she had heard and said: "How can people not read and miss out on such wonderful moments?"

Me: "Well, I guess people are comfortable in their ign..."
She: "It. Was. A. Rhetorical. Question!"
Me, nonplussed [God! She is so beautiful with her stormy eyes]: "You should know by now that I have ready answers for questions, whether asked or unasked..."

She growled at me and stomped out of the room.

*Sigh* I just love her!

Now, my proposal to her was quite different than Mahler's to Alma; it started "simply enough" with an "I love you." But that is a story for another time.

P.S. Mama, you'll note from the lyrics it really, really, really is "Everyone know that it's Windy". Q.E.D.