Tag Archives: spanish

Steve Gershom and Joseph Prever, mutually fascinated by each other’s sparkling intellects, but again, in a way that is totally not weird, get together at the same coffee shop where they first bumped into each other, to continue their discussion on gender and sexuality. Joseph begins with an attack disguised as a concession.

JP: Have you thought a bit more about what I said? I know you weren’t trying to be sexist — I mean, all you really said was that the way you tend to approach women is different from the way you tend to approach men. And I guess we’re all guilty of that.
But it’s not ideal, right? Even if everybody does it, that doesn’t make it okay — it’s something we should be trying to overcome. You should just be treating a person as a person, as an individual. You shouldn’t come into the conversation expecting them to be one way or another.
SG: I have thought about it more, and I think this is the problem: you are assuming, categorically, that it is bad to have preconceptions about another person. I disagree. I mean, sometimes preconceptions are bad: for example, it would be wrong of me to assume that you’re stupid just because you’re American — because that would be setting up an obstacle that you’ll have to overcome later; it’s like making you have to prove to me that you’re not stupid.
And even then, even if the preconception was something good instead of being bad, it’s still undesirable. Let’s say I think all Americans are friendly; then if you have just an average amount of friendliness, suddenly you seem particularly unfriendly. So my preconception has gotten in the way of seeing the Real You.
JP: Right.
SG: But aren’t there some situations where preconceptions are good, and helpful, and even help you see the other person more clearly, instead of less clearly?
JP: Not impossible, I guess, but it seems unlikely. Can you give me an example?
SG: What about interactions between people from different cultures? I was on retreat not too long ago and met a man from Korea. I left a couple of days later, and when he said goodbye, he took my hand and pressed it in both of his. He didn’t use a handshake grip, either; it was more like he was holding my hand, like I think of a man holding a woman’s hand. And he held onto it for a long time, too.
Now, if an American had done that, I would think it was odd. I might think, “Wow, we’ve only known each other two days — why is he using such an intimate gesture?” Or I might even wonder if he was gay, because most of the men that I know don’t express friendship with hand-holding!
JP: Seriously?
SG: I said “might”! But either way — I happened to remember hearing that touch in Korean culture is very different from touch in American culture! So, since nothing else about my interactions with this man suggested that he was gay or that he believed us to be more intimate friends than we were, I just put it down to cultural differences. And it was actually really nice.
JP: So you’re saying that if he had been American, you would assume he was either gay or just presumptuous? Wow.
SG: Not necessarily! But it would have to be explained somehow, and maybe the explanation would be totally inconsequential.
All I’m saying that gestures have meanings, and those meanings vary from culture to culture. It’s the same with words: a word can have different meanings in different countries, even if the two countries speak the same language: in most of South America novio means boyfriend, but in Chile it means fianceé. So if you call somebody your novio in Chile but you just mean “boyfriend”, then people are going to misunderstand.
The lingering-double-hand-hold (LDHH) has one set of meanings in America, and another set of meanings in Korea.
JP: Still, you can’t assume so much about somebody just from one gesture.
SG: No, you’re right, that would be unfair. But at least, if this guy had been American, I would tend to assume one of three things:
  1. he was using the LDHH as a gesture of romantic feelings (because that is one thing the LDHH can can mean for Americans);
  2. he was using the LDHH as a gesture of intimate friendship (because that is another thing the LDHH can mean for Americans); or
  3. he was, for some reason, using the LDHH in a non-standard way.
JP: Okay, but why would an American use the LDHH in a “non-standard way”?
SG: I don’t know. Maybe because his family has its own way of using gestures — so in that way, you could still call it “cultural differences”, because a family is a kind of micro-culture. Some families more than others. Or he could be somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum; people with Asperger’s sometimes have trouble speaking the language of gestures.
JP: So he’s either gay, presumptuous, or autistic? Nice, Steve.
SG: Maybe! I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being gay or autistic, right? “Presumptuous” is the only one of those three that’s judgment on his character. The other two are neutral. Right? [darts a pointed look at Joseph]
JP: Oh. [blushes] Right. Okay, but still: you can’t form a whole theory about somebody’s personality based on a single gesture! I mean, when we say goodbye, are you going to be gauging my handshake to see whether it falls within the Acceptable Range For American Handshakes? Like are you going to be measuring it to see whether it’s too firm, or too floppy, or too long or too…[blushes again] [coughs]…anyway, are you?
SG: No, you’re right — it’s not good to over-interpret. Most of the time I’m not going to think about it.
JP: Maybe he’s just a really affectionate guy!
SG: Maybe! Which would be non-standard in a good way, if you ask me. Have we strayed from the point?
JP: Maybe. What was the point?

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.1

One nice thing about going to daily(ish) Mass is hearing about the saints, who I usually can’t even be bothered to talk to, much less read about. We’re under no obligation to do any of the above, of course, which is like saying that the son of a rich man could chew on corn cobs and sleep on a bed of hay, if he preferred to do so. Which of course we frequently do.

When I participate in any kind of daily liturgy, whether it’s the Mass or the Office, I try to remember that the readings for the day might very well be custom tailored to me, might be just exactly what I need to hear, if I have ears to hear it. That’d sound egotistical if we didn’t know the kind of love God has for us, which is — I keep reminding myself — intensely personal.

Today is Saint Luke’s day. The name always makes me think of Brother Lucas, who belongs to the order I stayed with for three months in Peru, back in ’08. My first memory of him is, in a sense, the first time I understood what the order was all about. We were sitting down to dinner and he was talking in Spanish; another brother, Br. José María, translated for me.

From the tone of Br. Lucas’ voice, I would have assumed he was discussing the weather, or the dogs,2 or a trip he had made into town. But the words coming from Br. José María were intensely personal: “It took me a long time,” he was saying, “to be able to offer up to God the blessings he gave me and the good works I did. But then He told me He wanted something else. I couldn’t believe it: I said, No, no, no! Because” — Br. Lucas took a big breath here — “He said that He wanted my sins, too.”

Was this standard dinner conversation around here? Was this, maybe, just what most Peruvians were like? A qualified “yes” to the first and a definite “no” to the second: one of the marks of the order was the sharing of interior lives to a degree I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. But apart from them, Peruvian men aren’t generally big on sharing their feelings.

Mostly it was just Brother Lucas being Brother Lucas.

Brother Lucas is a big man: before joining the order, he used to coach high school crew teams. His voice is deep and rich and he has round, muscular shoulders, but I was always surprised how easy it was to talk to him: surprised because you wouldn’t think somebody with such a face, The Face, would be easy to talk to.

About a month into my visit, I was frustrated: there were some English speakers around, but most of the conversation was in Spanish, and although I spoke some of it, I always felt left out no matter how much the others tried to include me; and then of course if I noticed they were trying to include me, I felt awkward about that. It was an emotional place in general, too: you try sitting for three hours a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament and tell me some crazy stuff doesn’t come bubbling up from your heart.

So I was wandering around the grounds after dinner, 4000 miles from home and feeling every inch of it, when Br. Lucas saw me and asked what was wrong. “I’m sad,” I said in Spanish, “because everybody’s always talking, talking, talking, and I don’t understand anything!” and then I burst into tears.

He sat there with me for a little bit, and then said slowly and clearly: “Steve. Tu hablas Castellano muy, muy bien.3 He said it in Spanish, of course: making a gift not only of the words, but of the way he said them.

Whenever I ask myself what Christianity is all about — what difference it all makes, how it is that Jesus came to save us and yet here we are, profoundly un-saved — I remind myself: the only reason people like Br. Lucas exist is because Jesus came. There’s no other explanation for him than that Jesus lives in and through him. I know it doesn’t come through from two little stories. You’d have to meet the man.

Which applies to Jesus, too: you have to meet the man. When it comes to answering our deepest questions, words won’t do. Only a Person will.

1 From the Responsorial Psalm for today — Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012.
2 They owned 6 German Shepherds, whom they trained assiduously. Naturally Br. Lucas with a German Shepherd always made me think of St. Francis.
3 “You speak Spanish very, very well.”

I tried for over an hour to write this post about what happened today at the gym. It was about how, even though I found out my gym buddy Eddy is gay, and found this out by him hitting on me, and had to tell him that yes, I’m (1) gay, but also (2) Catholic and therefore (3) celibate, I feel nothing but good and satisfied and proud of myself.

Well, I do feel good and satisfied and proud of myself. I don’t feel regret. Starting something with him isn’t something I could have done. Eddy’s got a gentle smile and is built like a tank besides, and did I mention I have sort of a thing for Latinos? But in the end there’s only one man worth starting over for, worth turning your life completely upside down, and that man’s a Jew, not a Puerto Rican.

All the good ones are gay. Ladies? Amirite?1

I actually didn’t notice, until I emailed my friend D. about it, that I was kind of upset. I noticed that I was using more exclamation points than usual, and asking more questions, in rapid-fire: what do I do now? Do I start steering clear of the steam room? Change my gym schedule so we don’t run into each other? Can we still be friends? Should I have been more clear?

But I was clear. I told him I’m celibate; that I knew I couldn’t be both gay and Catholic; that I chose the one that I knew was more important. He apologized, said he felt like he was being a mala influencia, and I told him No te preocupes, I understand, I would’ve done the same thing.

It’s not that I’ve ever thought about him, much, outside of when we happen to cross paths. It’s not that we’re a match in any way, if being a “match” romantically with another man were even possible. It’s — heck, it’s not even that I’ve never been hit on by a man before. Just not by anybody I actually knew or liked.

Just as well I couldn’t patch together a glib post about how it’s all fine. Sometimes it ain’t fine. It’s not terrible, either, just not fine. Así es.

Just as well, too, that I’ve got Adoration tomorrow morning. It’s not like Jesus isn’t used to me complaining.

1 I have never actually typed this word before. Looks a bit like one of those Old Testament peoples: And the Israelites cut down the Amirites by the edge of the sword. And also their King, Og, who smelled of spoiled meat.

Woke up late this morning, and the first church I tried turned out to have a ‘property for sale’ sign draped over their billboard, so their 11:30 was definitely not happening. I ended up at the Spanish Mass at St. Paul’s.

I spent some time once with a religious order in Peru — that’ll have to be another post — which left me with some knowledge of Spanish and an affection for all things Latin, but I tend to feel like an interloper at Spanish Masses. I don’t like to stick out, so my instinct is to try to pass as a Spanish speaker myself, but of course that’s not where my focus should be.

I have been avoiding St. Paul’s, too, because the combination of all that cavernous space and the small sprinkling of attendants is a little depressing. So I was surprised to find the place already half full when I got there five minutes early, and it kept filling up. So many Catholics, and so many young people! The average age of so many English-speaking congregations is closer to 50 than to 30.

Is it just the perspective of an outsider that makes Latin Americans seem particularly warm? Before the Mass started, everyone greeted everyone else. We held hands for the Our Father. The choir sang contemporary stuff, with feeling. All that stuff might bug me at an English Mass, but when it’s in Spanish it never does. Maybe that’s prejudice, or maybe having to translate the words I hear helps me to actually hear them; or maybe it just seemed less forced than things like that usually do.

I also got to watch the father of the family in front of me interact with his sons — poking them, whispering to them, all of them grinning — a sight that I always find beautiful and painful in equal measure. But beauty and pain are two very good things to put on the altar.

I stopped by to greet the priest afterwards on my way out, with everyone else. He said, ‘Como estamos?‘ I said ‘Muy bien,‘. He grinned and said ‘Muy bien, eh? Very good, very good!’ and gave me a huge hug. I wasn’t fooling anyone after all. Just as well! The lady I had been sitting next to overheard the exchange and said, ‘So you’re starting to learn Spanish? Me too!’ I guess she meant ‘And I’m starting to learn English.’ Or, just as likely, I mistranslated. I get the beginnings and endings of sentences okay, but the middle always goes by too fast.

So, maybe I’ll accidentally oversleep again some other Sunday soon. Maybe some of that warmth will rub off.