Editor’s Note: This week’s “Life Is Mysterious” column was originally published on April 27, 2017.
Perhaps you’re thinking that French is the language of love, as everything sounds beautiful when spoken in French. Even ordering food from a fast food menu at a drive-thru window can sound romantic when it is recited in French.
Maybe you feel Italian is the language of love. Being Italian myself, I would tend to agree. When I was a child, I used to hear my grandparents talk to each other in Italian, and I always thought it sounded like a language I wanted a future boyfriend to swoon me with. Plus, nothing is more romantic than hearing Mario Lanza sing Italian love songs. I know this, as every Sunday after church, my family listened to him on our record player while we all sat together and ate homemade spaghetti and meatballs.
An argument can also be made for the Greek and Spanish languages. Being someone that can only speak English, romance seems to pulse through all of the beautifully spoken words in these languages, too. I even tried to learn Spanish, but after a year of class, I was left with knowing how to order water (agua) at a restaurant.
I often think I can fake speaking a certain language just because I can roll my r’s or pronounce a j as an h sound, as one does when saying jalapeño. But, I am not kidding anyone. Despite my desire, I cannot speak a foreign language.
Not all languages of the world are romantic. Some, like German, Chinese and Hebrew, to name a few, sound intriguing, yet, they don’t share the aspect of romance. Nonetheless, I love hearing them spoken just as much as all the so-called Romantic languages.
When my husband, John, and I were first dating, he wowed me with a few German words he learned from a Catholic priest friend of his. Then later, when we married, at my request, he learned a few Italian love songs. I would ask him to sing them at random times, just because I loved the way he sang them and it brought back fond memories of my childhood.
Several months ago, and after years of not hearing John sing them, I requested he sing an Italian love song to a dear friend of ours who was in the hospital.
Late at night, in the quiet of the ICU, stood my husband leaning over our close friend who was now unresponsive and on a ventilator, singing a love song to him in Italian. It would be one of the last times we would see our friend, and it was the only gift we could give him in his state of health. I like to believe he heard John singing to him because he, like myself, came from New York and loved Italian love songs.
Language can be powerful, even if you do not understand a single word spoken or sung. It can move you to tears.
Last week we had our new friend Émile from New York to visit us. I wrote about him in my column from two weeks ago entitled “A New York State of Mind.” Anyway, to make a long story short, while visiting us, he made friends with a coworker of mine named Abel. Abel and his family had Emile over for dinner and, when they were done eating, Abel drove him back to our house.
When at my home, Émile needed to speak with his housekeeper, but there was a small language barrier. She spoke mainly Portuguese. As it turned out, Abel is from Brazil and speaks fluent Portuguese. You might already know where I am going with this, but I will share it with you anyway. Standing in my kitchen in my log home in the mountains of Tennessee was now a conversation being facilitated in Portuguese. I could not understand a single word that was spoken, but what I did understand was the universal language of compassion.
By the way, I was wrong earlier in this column when I said that there is nothing more romantic than hearing Mario Lanza sing Italian love songs. My husband singing them is by far the most romantic thing I have ever encountered. I guess my childhood desire to be swooned in Italian came true after all — even if it was not by an Italian.
Yes, for many years I have loved to hear people speak foreign languages, and I have always had a desire to speak them myself. My one regret in my educational experience is that I did not learn to speak one of those languages, but as the saying goes, it is never too late to learn.
The one language I can speak, as we all can, is the language of compassion and caring. One person helping another person. After all, that is the true language of love.
Life is mysterious.