Where Our Vocabulary Follows
By Mark Russell Dean
Within hours of her death we stood in huddled mass attempting to understand the truth of the situation. Stories were told and anecdotes swapped as each of us attempted the futile task of filling the chasm of her loss with tales of the minutia from her days and the structure of her life.
After a year of constant travel, from one friend to another through mine and hers, I could recount her story from beginning to end. In the telling I walked in her footsteps, understood how she lived and found answers to my questions. Entwining my story in hers I revisited our decisions, found my place in her life and, through her, my place back in the world. Our story lasted a year and a half after she died and when I could recite its conclusion, it let me go. This was the Period of Settlement, the name I gave my internal journey.
But there was a need for an external name, if only for something to tell passport control. As English is an unromantic language, and deals with death and emotion with anglo-saxon pragmatism, I looked further afield canvasing our friends, my work colleagues, their friends, mobilising an international network to find an answer.
Voyage of Nostalgia was considered. But nostalgia is a fond memory and these were not happy travels. Portuguese has a companion word, Saudade, the melancholic reflection of a time, place or person that has passed never to return. A good fit, but said nothing of my physical journey.
I sought an expression to meld love, with distance, against loss and journey and was sure it would be Italian, her second language, but the answer in the end was Teutonic. "Eine Vergangenheitsbewältigungsreise", My journey to come to terms with my past. The glory of German, a bilingual friend told me, is that if the word does not exist you add two, or three, together to make one that does.
Eine Vergangenheitsbewältigungsreise crossed five countries. My Period of Settlement 30,000 kilometres more. In completion I needed a final word, referring to the past as much as the future, for those from that life I am still so deeply connected to, a word for us. We chose Cheong, a Korean expression for shared emotional connection that runs far deeper than normal friendship. That speaks of such things as death. That does not stifle or hinder. That allows the moment and helps it to grow. That offers lasting connection.
The development of my vocabulary has been profound, driven by a need to name the esoteric, frustrated by the language that I speak and expanded by the words that I have found. I’ve learnt where our journey takes us, our vocabulary follows.