I am a linguist who loves literature and who is fascinated by science. I quantify randomness. I paint. I travel in a power wheelchair, hoping to capture the ordinary.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sheltering the Wild

"To love is to approach each other center to center." ~ Pierre de Teilhard de Chardin

It has taken me a long time to write this post, perhaps because it touches on the "heart" of things. I want to write about unconditional love, about revelations that allow the connection between two beings to ignite with wild lightning. This is about holding on in the storm, not because we are kind enough to pretend it is not that bad or we don't really feel the lash of the wind in someone else's pain.

Francoise Gilot (French, b.1921), Little Girl with Owl 1960
It is about joining in the roll of thunder, pairing each other's scars like kindling for a warmth we seek, because the wild heart in each of us deserves to be gazed upon with full acceptance. In my most honest love, there is a place for the safe unveiling of brutality.

“To love another another human in all of her splendor and imperfect perfection, it is a magnificent task...tremendous and foolish and human.” ~ Louise Erdrich, The Last Report On The Miracles At Little No Horse

Our centers are full of divinity and light, yes. But there is also pain and fear, rage and hunger. To deny this in ourselves is to feel ashamed of our very natures. To deny this in others, or to judge it as diminishing the other, is to offer a cowardly love. We cannot fully love without the revelation of imperfections. So when we hide our ugliness, we are, in effect, refusing the chance to be known and loved.

Such a shrinking away from wholeness, and its concomitant lack of trust, has dire consequences in all aspects of life, not just in our most intimate relationships (as if this alone were not bad enough). John Warner recently wrote a self-proclaimed "preachy" piece on truth in Inside Higher Ed, entitled "A Column Not to Be Dictated to by Fact Checkers," in which he discussed this phenomenon in today's classrooms (and politics). I found the following excerpt particularly relevant:

Found here
"I sometimes read about how the current generation has been ruined by the self-esteem movement, but they can hardly be blamed with their role models, champions who cheat, politicians who lie, journalists who don't believe there is such a thing as truth.

Or a teacher who is worried about looking like a square when he says he believes in truth. All of us are signaling that there’s nothing much worthy of belief aside from our own “success,” our image, and how we’re perceived on some imaginary scoreboard.

These are all forms of cowardice, a lack of trust in ourselves and others, that we will not be judged of value unless we are perfect, if we are anything short of outstanding."

This is not to say that we should parade our scars in some sort of victim dance. But to cover ourselves in "goodness" is a kind of death: “To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality” (John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice).

In some way, I approach this topic as a sociolinguist. I know that in language, like in all human systems, attainment of a "perfect" state cannot be achieved except through death (and yes, here, I am mindful of the spiritual implications of this). And even then, what is considered the "perfect" moment is debatable, not to mention a mere abstraction. In language, it is the variation, its very state of imperfection, of dynamic motion and persistent change in a world that never experiences the same moment twice, that allows it to flourish. Languages do not survive despite their imperfections, but rather because of their imperfections. I think this sheds a new light on our lives.

by minimaforms, 2008. “Minimaforms was invited by
Archigram’s David Greene to rethink and evolve his
seminal projects the Living Pod and High-Rise Tower
as part of a show called Imperfect works.” Exhibited at
Mega-Structures Reloaded, Berlin (2008) / Imperfect Works,
London (2008).
"The key to a rational conception of language change – indeed, of language itself – is the possibility of describing orderly differentiation in a language serving a community … It is absence of structural heterogeneity that would be dysfunctional." (Weinreich et al. 1968: 100–101)

A language that does not shift, bending rules and opening itself to "strange" new patterns, is soon a dead language.

On the spiritual question, Lacey Mosley discovered that she could see God's grace best through the lens of imperfection: “I've learned recently to love imperfection a lot because it shines such a big light on God's grace. And if someone has grace for you that's when you feel their love the most and they see you for who you are and they love you anyway.”

When I compare our "imperfection" to the "imperfection" of human systems like language and culture, it dawns on me that there is nothing to be forgiven. It is not that we must love "anyway," but that through this, we love. Through this wildheartedness that is our life force, we understand:

Louise Butler, Journey to Nimbus (2010), oil on canvas
“But those who seek only reassurance from life will never be more than tourists—seeing everything and trying to possess what can only be felt. Beauty is the shadow of imperfection.” ~ Simon Van Booy, Everything Beautiful Began After

So yes, we must shelter our wild (heart/tongue), but not because it is shameful. If we shelter it, it should be to save it for those who will know how to feed it. What a mess Einstein once was! But he did not shrivel away. And, I would argue, it was this very messiness that brought him to question everything, and to change our understanding of the world. I assure you, he is not the only example.

“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking.” ~ Marianne Williamson

In disability, our mess is also our greatness. This is not because we are meant as inspirations to others, as some sort of epiphany-producing humanoid object. This is because the mess of disability itself is a question, which is a curiosity, which is a quest, which is a revelation. Love the imperfections, crawl into them and gaze from the inside out, and a rich new world will unfold.

Weinreich, U., Labov, W., & Herzog, M. 1968. "Empirical foundations for a theory of language change." In: W. Lehmann & Y. Malkiel, eds., Directions for historical linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. 95-198.