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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Words, Language, and Chocolate Puddy

It’s easy to hang with people who speak the same language you do. Who enjoy the same hobbies, movies, books, sports, whatever. Otherwise, it’s work and sometimes more work than we’re really willing to put into it.

Last night my blind/mostly deaf brother came to me while everyone else was gone and spelled out the word “puddy”. Jack is quite the handyman, but also frustrating because sometimes his projects go awry, what with not being able to see and all. So with wary generosity, I asked him, “Puddy? Why do you want puddy?”

“Yes,” he said, “Puddy.”

Sigh. Okay, we need a different approach. “Yes, Jack.” Trying to be patient because I’ve told the kids and Rusty not to get irritated, just listen even if he makes no sense, which is touch and go, to be honest. He lives in the dark, mostly silent world. Give him a break. “But why do you want puddy?”

“Yeah, puddy.”

After five minutes, of him saying, “Yeah, Puddy.” And me saying. “Why do you want Puddy?” I finally gave up. “I gotta go, Jack.” And his disappointed, “Ok.”

I’m not proud of it, but I went back on the deck with my book to be alone in the warmth of the wind blowing in the storm front for the few minutes I had left before the family returned from church. I settled into my chair, drinking in the smell of the fresh-cut grass and probably too much pollen, and picked up my Ipad to read another book about writing by a writer. I read a ton of books by other writers, artists, musicians, and actors because I understand the language. The self-deprecating, pointing the finger at me, kind of humor that cracks me up and I identify with. Some of the most profound concepts lately have come from Penny Marshall’s memoir, “My Mother Was Nuts.”

Only I couldn’t read, all I could think about was that stupid puddy and what does my brother want with puddy and what needs to be fixed? But mostly, I was thinking about how I didn’t understand my own brother and that I know he’s frustrated and also wants to puddy something.

I think a big challenge with finding and maintaining healthy relationships is a simple breakdown of language. We figure if we all speak English, what’s the problem? But it’s like this, we hang out with our own kind, missing out on a lot of great friendships, because we don’t have the patience to understand the subtext behind what the other person is saying. Honestly, we don’t get the private jokes and that makes us feel less valued by those who don’t bother to give it up. That’s why writers like to hang out with other writers. There’s a well of understanding that goes deeper than words. Writers conferences are notorious places to plot murders, solve world problems, create new worlds, and feel the agony of lost love all at one table of like minds, all in a three hour period with copious amounts of wine, nachos, and music so loud you have to shout these solutions across the table. It gets funny when the waitress hears the murder plot and starts to get nervous.

But we get each other. We understand there are plethora of wannabe writers who use plethora a plethora of times and we laugh because plethora is so yesterday. Those three hours fly by like they’re nothing and it’s worth arriving blurry-eyed at the next morning’s class. Soul-restoring understanding. And when the writing instructor uses the word “plethora.” We dissolve into eighth-grade boys who smell something.

And we all do it. No matter what group of like-minds you fit into. It’s like the pastor at one of the churches in town posted a video this morning with a football theme and called his wife, Aimee Hill. I thought it was an autocorrect fail. The video was awesome. She’s awesome, but I think there was more to the “Hill” part than I understand. I didn’t get the joke.

So I sat there, rolling “puddy” over in my head a thousand times, trying to think what Jack might need to fix, and finally I just went back inside, set my Ipad on the counter and tried again.

“Jack, you need puddy?”

“Yeah!” he says.

“Why do you need Puddy?”

“Yeah, Puddy!”

My chest is tightening. I wonder if puddy can fix a heart attack. Okay, lets not start the same conversation. The language has to change. One of us needs to hear what the other one is saying. Deep breath.

“Jack, why do you need puddy?”

“Yeah! Puddy.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, puddy. But show me what you want to use it for.” And then louder. “SHOW ME.”

“OH! Okay.” He stands up and takes my hand and walks me to the fridge.

Confused frown. Do you even use puddy to fix fridges? Weird.

He opens the fridge and touches a four-pack of chocolate pudding.

“Oh! You want pudding???”

“Yeah!” He pulls out a plastic container and shoves it toward me. “You want puddy?”

“No, Jack. But you can have it.” Take it all, for all I care. I was too relieved at the simple solution.

Jack got his pudding and I took my blood pressure to make sure I wasn't going to have a stroke.

And that’s the way it is. A meeting of minds, an understanding of souls. Caring enough to push past the language barrier.

The reward at the end of it all?

Chocolate pudding. And really, what’s better than that?


Vickie McDonough said...


I've felt that way in the past trying to understand something one my teens said. I pray the Lord gives you grace with your brother and blesses you immeasurably for taking him in, especially after all the things you've been through.

Leslie Gould said...

I can so relate to your post! Thank you!

Kathleen Y'Barbo said...

It's all about communicating, isn't it?

Nancy Mehl said...

Great post, Tracey. I'm learning that many times what I think someone is saying may not be even close to what they're trying to say. Listening involves the heart - not just the head. Especially in the case of "puddy." :)

Jill Stengl said...

I am so bad about responding to what I heard rather than to what was actually said. Makes for some very awkward moments--and mostly because I'm either too proud to admit that I didn't understand or too lazy (and self-focused) to give it another try.
Thanks for this wise post, Tracey.

Kathleen Fuller said...

Chocolate puddy can fix just about anything. :) Loved this story, and the reminder of how important communication is with the ones closest to us.

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