Thursday, March 5, 2009

Orthodox Lent

Orthodox Lent began this week, Easter being a week later than in the Western calendar. I have never understood this disagreement within the Christian church, between Catholics (and Anglicans) in the West and Orthodox Christians in the East, whose head (primus inter pares) is the ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (modern Istanbul). The truth is the truth, so why do we have to disagree over it? The only dogma I espouse is its reverse: am God.

Anyway, in the middle of Sunday lunch, my mother-in-law, who had set a splendid table, abruptly stood up and asked forgiveness of us all, in turn forgiving us for anything we might have done. What was going on? I thought to myself. Mothers-in-law weren’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to torment you mercilessly, not ask forgiveness! I felt a little light-headed. Of course, after that, there was an argument about someone’s birthday and my wife and mother-in-law disagreed over something I had the impression they actually agreed on. But the grandeur of asking forgiveness and being forgiven stayed with me.

If translation has taught me one thing, it is that I am not original. Nothing begins with me. I said this to my mother-in-law, who claimed that to be a good translator it was not enough to know the language you’re translating from, you yourself had to be creative, a writer. I answered that I thought the opposite was the case, meaning I agreed with her. Apart from the fact I would argue it is much more important to know the language you’re translating into (which perhaps you can only truly know when you’ve learnt another language), I believe writers are translators, writing down experiences, impressions, even stories, that come to them.

If we can believe this, that we are not original and our purpose in life is to be translators, then we don’t have to fight over things anymore and a huge weight is lifted off us. This is really what my mother-in-law was doing on Sunday, I think. Translating forgiveness.

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