Not German but Spanish this week as I dig out my vocabulary books to remind myself of useful phrases before a trip to Spain later in the week.
For me the real pleasure of learning a language is not just being able to converse with people in shops and restaurants in their own tongue, great though that is. No, it’s deeper than that, it’s having more detailed conversations and understanding some of the culture through language.
Whilst I’m very much looking forward to a few days in Vejer de la Frontera, where we have been regular visitors for several years now and are lucky enough to own a small house, this trip will be particularly poignant. A lady who started off looking after our plants and cleaning and has over the years become a friend, lost her husband earlier this week.
There are several things I love about my Spanish friend. She didn’t speak a word of English when we first met and never saw any real need to because everything she wanted in life was right there in her little corner of Spain. She is always cheerful, without fail, even when telling me her husband had lost his job (in the construction industry), or one of the children had failed an exam. Life was a joy and I always came away from our encounters feeling uplifted.
Despite having no inclination to speak English, she loved and encouraged my attempts at Spanish and never spoke to me as if I was a foolish foreigner. She didn’t make any particular allowances for my lack of vocabulary just kept going and repeated the point until I either ‘twigged’ or managed to look up any unknown words in the dictionary!
She remembered all our children’s names and kept up to date with their progress – asking about exams and university and their aspirations. Having only ever wanted to be a wife and mother, she was fully supportive of her daughter’s desire to follow in her footsteps but mindful that her daughter might need to support herself one day and therefore need some form of qualification to fall back on.
Imagine the shock then when her husband became very ill a couple of months ago and then died this week in his very early forties. How must her world look now? On the one hand I really want to see her and offer any comfort and support I can in person, and on the other I’m dreading the meeting. I don’t want to see my friend in a pain that I can do little to ease and my Spanish simply isn’t up to explaining how angry I am for her. She was not a greedy person, expecting anything for nothing, nor overly demanding of the world.
So I will go and embrace my friend, listen if she wants to speak, speak if she wants to listen and reach out to her – both with and without words – to remind her that she’s loved and valued, even without her beloved husband.
Spanish words this week then.