Lost in Translation

24 Jan

I always get a slight kick out of watching toddlers pretend they can read. Typically they know their story books well enough that they can pretend to read the words on the page while telling you the narrative unfolding in the pictures. Yet I always feel a tinge of omnipotence as well for I am acutely aware that without the power to really read, I am infinitely more in control than the child. I hold the keys to a world they have not yet gained access to.

I remember the wonder of learning to read. While I don’t remember the mechanics of how I learned, I do recall when I knew enough to start intuitively figuring words out. Suddenly, it was as if my world went from black and white to technicolor. I went from being single to being madly in love.

I haven’t felt that kind of intellectual ecstasy for some thirty-seven years but the other day while doing Hebrew homework, I realized I knew enough to fairly rapidly translate some very fundamental phrases from Genesis. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.'” I stared at these words – words that even in English made no sense to me until a year ago. And it was as if God was saying them to me. I felt an almost eerie sense of the Divine as I realized the power of words. The sacredness of words. And the link to the Divine through words. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Wow.

For years I thought of Shakespeare as the Bible and so it has always pained me that others typically despise Shakespeare. Yet I know this is because most people had a bogus high school teacher for English who did not understand the words of the Bard let alone how to teach the texts to teens. Most people have never been told that theatre is meant to be seen and heard more than read and that the characters are flesh and blood people who ache and orgasm and despair. They are people we can identify with and learn from.

The Bible is similar – often misunderstood and taken for granted as archaic and boring. But oh it is so alive. The text breathes and pulses. It can come alive before your very eyes. Yet so much gets lost in translation literally and figuratively. Therefore, I wonder, are we humans still like those in Babel? Unable to communicate? Unable to comprehend or connect meaning with words and with each other? Yes, we are and as long as we are, there is power in story.

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