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Generous Translations

By: Angela Townsend:

Love is spadework and compromise, humor and humility.

It is a fifty-five gallon drum of salt and paradox.

It is tireless, fearless translation. This last task is as dangerous as volcano-spelunking.

But if language is slippery, love’s letters are buttered beans, slapstick and immature and amused by themselves. They snicker through our fingers just when we think we understand, and we squish them beyond recognition at the last moment.

Fortunately, it is seldom the last moment.

Take heart! There are many maddening moments yet to practice your verbs and valor.

I found myself in a mushed, mistranslated moment in my boss’s office. After miles of wit and teamwork, we took off our shoes to test the holy ground of humanity. This is not new territory. Neil has been both paycheck-signer and friend for sixteen years. We have persevered through paragraphs about each other’s families and frailties. I know the fear beneath his bravery. He has seen the anger lining my angora.

But friendship only admits amateurs, and old friends speak in fluent clumsy.

“So.” Neil leaned back, clicked his pen ten times in rapid succession, and looked out the window. “All your medical stuff. Uh, how’s that going?”

I turned as red as that pen he uses to edit my newsletter articles. I willed my insulin pump not to siren, a hobby it reserves for Neil’s office. I raced through mental spreadsheets titled Comfortably Vulnerable and Way Too Naked.

Anxiety jumped in my lap and started pressing buttons on my insulin pump and my brain. Was Neil looking for reasons to fire me? Did Neil think I was a big giant baby?

I pulled out my Neil-Love dictionary and flipped to "Medical stuff (all your)."

Translation: “I care about you deeply. I know you carry heavy things. I am your friend.”

Ah. Of course.

I have been translating Neil nearly two decades now, so I know “not bad” means “you deserve a Pulitzer,” and “you’re a good listener” means “you are my cherished kin.”

No doubt, Neil works hard to translate my gush-geyser back into Neil. “This work is a haven of purpose, a community of love, the high honor of my life!” means “You’re a good boss.” “If you cut me, I bleed orange and blue!” means “I’m loyal. Also, our logo is cool.”

We yell from different planets, and love lands on a mutual star.

I wonder what might happen if we were willing to translate all day.

We can translate over breakfast. “Call me when you get there” means “You are precious.”

We can translate at the checkout line. “I like your scrunchie” means “You are a human being, and so am I.”

We can translate at the conference table. “Here’s the agenda” means “We are building a world together.”

We can translate in traffic. “Go to hell” probably means “Go to hell,” but 4th-century monks found a codex in which it also means “I am a trembling child on the wheel of time, your frail brother in the bonds of mercy.”

We can translate over tuna casserole. “Take the last scoop” means “God bless you, God love you, God make God’s face to shine upon you.”

We can translate at the bedside. “Read to me” means “Your voice is my nest.”

We can translate the television. “Welcome to The Tonight Show!” means “There is always something to be excited about! Wear your exclamation point like a backwards baseball cap, and you will feel better!”

We can translate when we can’t stop staring at the ceiling.

“Can I handle tomorrow?” means “I care about my life deeply.”

There is always something better between the letters.

We crack the sly semicolons as love’s linguists.

As long as we keep talking, we may yet become friends.


Angela Townsend

As Development Director for a cat sanctuary, Angela Townsend bears witness to mercy for all beings. This was not the path she expected with a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, but love is a wry author. Angie also has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Vassar College. She has had Type 1 diabetes for 32 years, laughs with her mother daily, and delights in the moon.

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