A New First Language
One morning, a couple years after my father passed away, my mother looked at me over her oatmeal and said, “I’m tired of thinking in English.” After that, she only spoke to me in her native language, Samoan. Well, it wasn’t like she never spoke English to me again, but pretty much the only time I could count on hearing it from her was when people whose primary language was English would come to visit. After awhile I welcomed the opportunity to communicate with my mom in her language, even though, at times, it was a struggle for us both. This new aspect of my relationship with my mom caused me to reflect upon what it meant that my first language was not my mother’s and that for a solid 40 years of my life, there were a couple extra steps, extra sprinklings of love, and seriously elephant-sized efforts in my mother’s process to move words from heart to head to mouth.
Many of the children and youth we know speak a language other than English at home. I think about how these parents, like my parents, feel gratitude and pride as they send their children off into the school day where they learn to communicate and thrive in this other language, the language that is dominant in our culture. I do wonder though, if there is also a feeling of concern and grief that their own communication with their child may be compromised or diminished in the process? I think for my parents, they acknowledged that it was part of the cost of their children’s education and it was worth the struggle. I thank God for parents.
I have also come to realize that God communicates with us in a language that is not likely His first language. I have wondered, then, what is God’s first language? My wonderings and reflections have led me to this conclusion:
God’s first language must be Love.
My mom expressing to me her desire, her need to go back to her language led me to think about how God must desire for us to be growing in our ability to communicate in this language of Love. The true sign of maturing in faith has to do with our ability to take on this Love language as our own and struggle until it becomes our first language, our go to and default language, our only language.
For YES’s part, we desire to be proficient in God’s first language. Everyday, we strive to communicate with the children and youth of our community in this language of Love, to expand and increase in our usage of and fluency in it.
The Major Taylor Bike Club helps us to be fluent in the language of Love. Somehow, and I’m not exactly sure how, pedaling miles and miles and miles together, especially when many of those miles are uphill, translates into commitment and trust. Conversations about hydration and flat tires turn to sharing about struggles at school, relationship issues at home and dreams about the future. Christmas in June is also a way that we say to the neighborhood children, “You are loved.” To an outsider, Christmas in June may seem like a huge “give-away,” but for us and the children at Mt. View, White Center Heights, Highland Park and Seahurst Elementary Schools, a brand new ball is a gift that comes from people in their community; people who are friends of their parents, their neighbors across the street, their aunts and uncles and older siblings. This gift from people who love them comes with a wish for a fun, safe, active summer and the hope that if they see us in McLendons, on the basketball court at Steve Cox Park or having lunch at Viva Mexico they will feel confident to say, “Hi” and feel known by and proud about their community.
My mom passed away one year ago and I feel her absence everyday. Her nine month old great grandson, Jabez, came over this morning and we watched the movie Moana together. Before any animation shows up on the screen, the movie opens with island music. Almost immediately, this fidgety, noisy, squirmy, little nine month old quieted down to hear the language of his great grandmother in the music of our people. I am thankful that my mother’s language transcends time and space and that even though she is absent from us, she remains with us, with Jabez, in surprising ways….including a Disney movie!
I am praying that we are all giving ourselves over to thinking and speaking in the language of Love, knowing how it will transcend and trusting that as we move from our current language to a new first language we will find that it is, of course, worth the struggle.
Thank you for your ongoing and generous support. You can’t imagine how deeply grateful we are for you.
Alofa Tele Atu,