If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it would be that if I put conditions on things, I get nowhere. First my own conditions crumbled (this was pre-Covid, but just barely), followed quickly by conditions of survival, and still lingering today, conditions of how to move in this new world. I learned how to be thrust into some impossible and unfathomable moment where it was just me and all those conditions or none of those conditions.
When heart of a language is composed of conditions, it has a familiar cadence and structure that feels like school: apply this; modify that; practice, practice practice; sit there; do this. However, to my eyes, Greek read like an ocean. After immersing myself in the texts, the letters and words softly ebb and flow, alive on the photocopied pages, caressing a desolate shore, one with round smooth rocks and colorless shells. Another language was a language of possibility because it was so. And it had a sort of dreamy unknown about it that it still felt like school.
School was a place where I understood conditions, but not conditioning. I didn’t see the layers of commentary, implicitness imposed by some authority named because-I-said-so, but this was okay because I devoured grammar books, studied the dictionary (especially the front and back matter), and went down rabbit holes, blown off course again and again. The conditions gave me boundaries and framework.
Devoid of conditions during quarantine, my thoughts become truths. Sutras: I am. I get to decide the conditions. First, I started without conditions. Just words circled on a page or uttered, and I observed these What does that mean? There was no when I say this or if I think that…there was just the WORDS. No judgment. No one to complain to because I didn’t get my way or something to worry about. The words were my words. And then I could sort out all the emotions attached to them.
There is something irresistibly cathartic about creating a space to hear oneself in the depth of accumulated vocabularies, but it is my students who are deaf and hard-hearing and our interpreters who have taught me the hidden vocabularies of our curriculum and social structures, most of which are impossibly lost on many of my students, which is fine until someone breaks a rule or misses another due date. Then, all implied conditions come out to roost and someone starts throwing out pronouns and pronouncements. And doubt fuels the conversation and everyone gets stuck with what was said or not said.
There’s something so spartan about the unconditional. I could fill it with words or I could let it be. I am empowered and enchanted by its story. The first words persist and rise to meet the incoming tides.