Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Lesson in Humility

One of the more poignant scenes from the life of St Ignatius Loyola is recounted in his biography. His dreams of working in Jerusalem thwarted, he felt that the better way to help souls was to begin studies. In order to do this, however, the thirty-something Ignatius had to go back and learn the fundamentals of, among other things, Latin which necessitated his sitting in class with children.

This week opened with a similar experience. The majority of the students in my German 101 course are 1st years and, while only eight years separates us, I can attest that eight years is a lifetime in many ways. I could extol what I feel is the benefit of affective maturation, but that would obscure the point of this post: I am by no means going to learn German with any great ease!

This language is tough! I thought Spanish was difficult, but this is enormously more challenging. I feel like a baby learning to pronounce words again, learning to count, learning how to say hello. Everyone around me seems to be picking it up so much faster and easier that it's pretty frustrating. With great ease do I normally express myself and, because I haven't yet gotten that far, I couldn't ask to go to the bathroom even if I needed to do so! (I can say hello, count to twenty, ask how you're doing, and tell you I speak English).

I just offer this humbling little experience for reflection. It makes me think of how frustrating it is for immigrants (legal or otherwise) who are thrust into a milieu where they are unable to communicate. It is crippling to be deprived of our speech and, as I am learning, learning a new language entails a great humbling and a regression to our linguistic infancy.

And I though my novitiate experienced tended to be infantalizing!


The language will come in time. I have tons of flashcards already and I've committed myself to studying German, so come hell or high water, I will learn it. I have the lofty goal of reading Rahner one day, but I doubt that it will ever happen...Karl's own brother, Hugo, is said to have remarked that a potential project was to translate Karl's notoriously dense prose into German! It is fun, nevertheless, to have the opportunity to learn a whole new language an∂ the prize of being able to order a good German beer in the German language is definitely a motivating prize.
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