A Year of Morning Thanks
Terms of Endearment
Twice in her life, she told me, she was addressed in an intimate way that made her feel specially loved, a figure of speech in the Navajo tongue that I, as a white man, simply can't understand; we have no cognate phrases. She told me what the words were in the Navajo language, but I don't know how to spell them, nor repeat them. Somewhere on my voice recorder, they're digitized, which makes me thankful. I can listen again, but my sense is that the intimacy doesn't reside in the words themselves.
Those two moments went like this. First, an aunt, who'd become a Christian, a woman who spoke to her about this new way of life, this new way of seeing the world. But before she'd even spoken of the gospel, she began by addressing her niece in a way that filled that little girl's soul with rejoicing, she said, even more than the gospel her aunt was touting.
I asked her if it would be something like "O, my most beloved," or something like that.
She looked at me strangely, as if no English words could possibly come near. But it was very special whatever it was--simply an address, a way of opening a very short but beautiful little testimony.
"Just the way she spoke to me that day made me feel really treasured," this woman said. She was only a little girl, but she never forgot. Today, like her aunt, she too is a believer.
And then again, years later, when a man, a preacher, from her own klan, she said, from her own band, you might say, spoke to her about faith. He too started out with an uncommon address, a beloved endearment that proffered an intimacy that she couldn't explain to someone who didn't know Navajo.
Some moments, when I walk into the middle of others' cultures, I am thrilled to find the tiniest vestiges of our common humanity. But then there other moments, like this afternoon, when no matter how hard I tried or no matter what words I used in translation, nothing worked.
Whatever intimacy was carried in that uncommon address offered to this beautiful Navajo woman, twice, years ago, is simply beyond this white man's ken.
And for that lesson in uniqueness--for all our own precious and inimitable differences--tonight, I'm thankful.
And I'm thankful for this too, that both times she was addressed with that uncommon intimacy, she listened more generously to the story of grace.