One sentence. That's it. Six words, to be exact. That's all the Italian I can speak, despite being surrounded by people who spoke little else in my childhood years.
My father emigrated from Italy with his mother and older sister in the 1920's to be reunited with his father who arrived in America first, round work and then sent for his family. Sent to kindergarten before he could speak a word of English, my dad promptly ran away, only to be returned to his mother sitting proudly in front of a mounted policeman, or so the story goes. Apparently he did eventually go back to school and stayed there, and he and his sister quickly learned to communicate with those around them.Learning English was a much more difficult chore for his stay-at-home mother, so around the house, in bigger family gatherings, and even at the big holiday parties in the basement of my grandmother's San Francisco home, Italian flowed from lips as freely as the wine was poured and the huge platters of homemade ravioli and risotto were passed around the tables. Even my Canadian-born mother picked up enough of the language to be able to understand the conversation around her.
Not so her daughter. Oh, I picked up some words here and there. I can say prosciutto, salami, lasagna and rigatoni with the best of them! Speaking the names of Italian foods and consuming large quantities of the same have never been a problem for me. While I say it too rarely, I can mimic to perfection my grandmother's cry, "Basta! Basta!" ("Enough! Enough!") when pressed to take a third helping of some dish or another. And despite the many years that have passed since those days, the hearty, "Salute!" as wineglasses were raised in toast still echoes in my ears. The one sentence I actually remember and can say to this day was drilled into my head by my father, who was determined that each family member say a greeting and a word or two of introduction on a tape he was making to send to distant relatives back home. While I read an entire paragraph into the microphone that day, all I've retained is the first line.
For years I've talked about rectifying the situation and learning the language with the help of one of the many study aids that are now available. And yet I haven't taken a single step towards accomplishing that goal...until this year. While shopping with the family one day for after-Christmas deals, I stumbled upon a page-a-day calendar that promised to teach me 365 Italian phrases in the course of a year! While that's way too many for me (my goal is to learn one phrase a week), talk about a bargain! My discounted calendar will last me seven years!
I couldn't wait to start! Eagerly the first full week of January I flipped through the pages to find the perfect phrase with which to launch the New Year. When I came across, "I need a nap", I knew I'd found it, and the fact that it (literally) made me "laugh out loud" led me directly to that as the second phrase!
Silly, perhaps, but I'm having such fun with the idea that it's worth it just on that basis alone. Of course, I have nobody to speak my phrases to, and I wouldn't be able to understand their responses if I did. But I love the sound and feel of the words coming off my tongue and am quite content to go around my house babbling in Italian for nobody's benefit but my own. This may very well be the one New Year's resolutin that outlasts the first month of the year.
But it reminds me of another resolution that likewise has to do with the words that come out of my mouth. I entered the New Year tired of the hours, days, and weeks I've wasted on worry and fear in the past. Mentally dubbing this the "Year of No Fear", I set out on a course of action to live free of those pests that have plagued me and crippled my spiritual life for longer than I care to admit. It was not by accident that I received a copy of a favorite author's new book on the subject for Christmas, nor that my pastor preached a sermon on that very topic as the New Year began, as well. Rather, they were confirmations from God that this was a wise course of action for me to take.
I've found that it likewise involves the study of a whole new language, and that, as in the learning of Italian phrases, I have to think for a moment before I speak, making sure that what comes out of my mouth is not only biblically correct but pronounced with faith and accented with confidence, rather than spoken in the dialect of doubt and in the vernacular of my current circumstances and feelings. It's not as easy as I thought it would be. Health issues, money problems and relationship struggles all tend to tie up my tongue and tangle my faith talk. But I find that as I flip through the pages of my reference tool, the Bible, and repeatedly voice aloud the promises I find there, not only do the words flow more fluently off my tongue but they change the way I think and live my life, as well. Thankfully I'm surrounded by people who also communicate in the language of faith, and who speak it back to me with words I not only understand but that my spirit eagerly responds to.
My dad passed away many years ago now, long before the desire to learn his native tongue gained a foothold in me, but I know he'd get a kick out of my current interest. Yet I know that my heavenly Father is listening to the words I say every day, and so I don't want my spiritual vocabulary to be limited to just a few phrases or a handful of promises I learned as a child. May whatever language comes out of my mouth express the thoughts of my heart in words that will make Him smile.
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14 NIV)