fireflies and shopping malls

Watching my visitor from afar continues to fill me with wonderment.

One thing I’ve decided is that the best gift we can give to our children is not necessarily travel (which I’d previously thought, and which is not an option available to all) but the tools they will need to do so.

How to adapt. How to try new things. How not to compare everything new to what you know. How to be curious and humble and fearless.

Watching her makes me think of the work I did in literary translation. (Calling it work is not really correct as I never made any money from it and it was purely a labor of love and admiration for the words I was fortunate to be asked to translate.)

A literal word-for-word translation will never do the original justice or capture its beauty but instead will remain stilted and separate not only from the original but also from the reader. The best translators absorb, tapping into all their senses to savor and get to know the words intimately, only then recreating their meaning in language. It is a reinterpretation without knowing that it is one, and as such has no pretense or sense of self.

The best traveler does the same. They assimilate the new culture not by stopping along the way to analyze, to compare, to judge, but instead reserving that for later. (There is a lifetime ahead for that.) In the moment they are present, absorbing, participating, not interrupting the living with its interpretation.

When I was in college there was a lion-like boy who I had a tremendous crush on, ever so briefly. One reason I did so was that he was fluent in French. I don’t even remember his name, but he gave me then what has remained one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

He was speaking about how to get through a French novel which I found particularly difficult, but he might have been speaking about how to get through life itself.

Never stop,” he said, “even when you don’t know a word or are lost on a phrase.” Eventually it all makes sense. He was right.

This afternoon my sweet visitor had her first view of a shopping mall, a chaotic miasma of consumer goods and their lovers, of girls with pouffy hair and tiny shirts hanging with boys trying oh so hard to be dangerous and cool. She saw people of all shapes and sizes, many carrying several large bags stuffed with their purchases as though they were packing for a month, or two, or three. She had her first Starbuck’s frappuccino and stared in wonderment at the coins lining the floor of the fountain.

While that was indeed thrilling, I think she preferred what followed.

Fireflies. Tonight she saw them for the first time, and held them, placing them (if only for a few moments) in a jar to watch their light.


4 thoughts on “fireflies and shopping malls

  1. Gorgeous. In five years of French I never tried a novel but now I want to. I get excited every summer for my first firefly. I can’t imagine having my first all over again. I want to hear more about the wonders she’s found in a world that is just same old, same old to me.

    1. I will start thinking about which French novel you should start, summoning up that lion-like boy to sit on your shoulder and encourage you to keep reading!

      If you were closer I’d send her to you to have tea and watch for the impatiens-eating deer, whispering to one another as you wait…

  2. Beautiful, and leaves me thinking that your sweet visitor is tremendously fortunate to be paired with you and your family. What a gift to experience all this new with you as her guide! Seems like an ideal example of cultural exchanges and rewards taking place…

    1. She is sweet, and she is also family… from far away indeed. It was her dream to come and our dream to have her.

      Tomorrow she will start spending time at the local middle school, which should be interesting. 😉

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