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Random Thoughts on Language

12 May Posted by in • Rachel Wahba | 14 comments
Random Thoughts on Language

At dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant, Daniel from Iran, a scholar of Jewish history and I, talk about words—words that are being used in “new” ways that irritate and annoy us. It is uncool to admit sheer unmitigated difficulty. What used to be difficult is now “challenging”. We define our emotional life as if it is a business enterprise, a competitive sport, a game.

Daniel and I get into it, into how language informs how we are supposed to experience our lives. I have been talking about my broken marriage, and how certain words meant to help me “move on” feel disruptive and confuse my sense of self.

We zero in on the prime offenders:

Closure, Challenge, and Move on.

“Closure”? The first time I was told to hurry up and get the divorce done with “for closure” it sent me further down the deep end. I don’t even use this word with my psychotherapy clients when we stop working together. The door is always open.

In fact no ending is concrete even when we are in the ground.

Every aspect of life is porous.

Business deals, not emotional connections have “closure”.

“Move on!”  Sure, right on, no problem, move on to the next “challenging” project.

It’s the sense of “historical continuity” that is missing in America, Aron explains. We Jews are an ancient people and both of us spent our childhoods imagining America, a young country where we would reinvent ourselves. No longer the little Turk Jew boy steeped in oppressive customs, and no longer the alienated Egyptian Iraqi Jew girl in Japan, the two of us jump from words to ideas and make meaning of our shared interpretations.

Is this lack of respect for historical continuity fueled by a business model that has taken hold of every aspect of our lives?

Joseph Campbell once said the culture of a country is reflected in its tallest, grandest buildings. We bow to money and power.

My friend Marco was fired without warning after working for a local restaurant for ten years.

“I worked all those holidays when everyone wanted to be with their families. I canceled plans when they needed me on my days off…”

All they said was “we are sorry but we cannot work with you anymore.”

The manager handed him his severance check and informed him that he was not to come back. To ease the hurt, the manager told him he did not want this but the owner decided it was time.

“Why? I don’t know,” Marco shrugs, hurt and confusion all over his face.

How “challenging. “

I guess its time to move on…

Avoid  “difficult” let alone traumatic, it’s all just “challenging”

Opportunity to move on is calling.

Buddha taught about letting go slowly, painfully, inching our way from the suffering of attachment.

Business demands a re-frame. This is the age of Fast Emotions moving into Lost Emotions and hundreds of friends as we fall into the Virtual world of Facebook .

Facebook has seduced me (its fun), but I am not moving on from language that speaks to the soul. I am in love with words that are layered and embedded with wisdom.  I live in America, but I will not adopt language driven by analogies that belong in business and competitive sports.

I will never move on as if life is a challenging game .

I will acknowledge what is painful, excruciating, and hard and move though as best I can while holding all the feelings with respect.

I grieve my losses, and feel every bit of how difficult it is to let go.

There is no “challenge” to mourning. I mourn my dead as I keep them alive in my heart .  I have not “moved on”.

No divorce decree with give me “closure” to 31 years.

As my father was dying he told me to remember:

“There is no beginning there is no end…”

Life and death are one continuous breath. Everything is in motion. Everything is alive. Everything changes. And it’s hard. Really really hard. The Mystery of it all defies concretized one-dimensional words that insult hard earned wisdom.

I will grow wisdom, I will walk through doors.

Nothing is concrete, not even cement.

Rachel Wahba is an Egyptian Iraqi Jew born in India who grew up stateless in Japan. She is a psychotherapist in the Bay Area and co-founder of Olivia Travel.

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  • Phern says:

    Great article, Rachel…and I could not agree with you more. In fact, just today I was talking about so-called ‘closure’ (her word) with someone in therapy, and I took your position: there is no such thing. I don’t do closure, and as you say, my door is always open. You don’t need to end something in order to begin something else, because everything stays with you all the time anyway.

  • Arlene Butler says:

    I, too, am a psychotherapist who is horrified by some old school therapeutic words like “termination.” My clients do not terminate, they graduate with the understanding that they have a lifetime warranty and can always return for further conversations.
    Twenty years ago I would have called myself a postmodern language collaborationist, but even I tired of the “narrative police” and their special vocabulary.
    I agree with you that language shapes our experience of life and I deplore the misuse of words.
    When my beloved husband died 10 years ago and people began using words like “closure” and “moving on”, I had to restrain myself from screaming. I still feel like screaming I usually say something along the lines of your beloved father, “there is no beginning and no end.”
    These days I am content that the veil of the Mystery cannot be torn away.
    Your essay reminded me of a poem by Hafiz. He said, “A poet is one who pours light into a cup then holds it to nourish your parched holy mouth.”
    Thank you, Rachel, for nourishing me today.

  • rachel wahba says:

    i love that we get to talk about this — “closure” has always felt so artificial to me —

  • rachel wahba says:

    arlene,i am …don’t have the words to respond…you filled out the essay…to find like minded people who love wisdom over the superficial who can let their heart break and keep it open…who can love fully and deeply and feel every bit of it…who know there is no “moving on” as we go through life, in it, with it, who quote poets (my dad was a poet…), and are turned on by higher consciousness …i LOVE what you wrote.

  • Marga says:

    Great piece Rachel. Case to be continued. It ain’t ovah till it’s ovah.

  • KAYLAH S. says:

    closure…moving on…advice to eradicate pain encapsulate it, isolate it…eliminate it… phobic of pain and of suffering….

    what about assimilation, integration, grieving, rejoicing, processing, at one’s unique time frame… emotions, memories, pains, pleasures, letting experience be one with us….

  • rachel wahba says:

    yes…the wisdom embedded in language…grist for the mill…

  • dew says:

    I always like Rachels articles , to the point , topics many people can relate to. you go girl keep writing for al of us love to read your posts.

  • Mark Presler says:

    You said it so well Rachel. I love how you said “move through” rather than move on.

  • Marlene Roeder says:

    Well spoken, Rachel. We use words like “closure” to hide behind, to try to distance ourselves from the suffering — our own or others’. But finally there’s no place to hide. Thank you for cutting through the feel-good euphemisms to the reality of suffering that is an inescapable part of our humanity.

  • rachel wahba says:

    thanks mark. writing is lonely without validation..

  • rachel wahba says:

    i have been listening to ram dass on suffering…
    that word is bound to be changed soon!

  • Judy N says:

    Well said.
    Thank you, Rachel.

  • rachel wahba says:

    thanks j. so good to know you read my stuff! xoxoxox