Recently reading the French word, “chantepleure” brought to mind the emotion I felt when I suffered the loss of five thousand dollars in an attempt to learn Arabic at Vermont’s Middlebury College. Chantepleure means to weep and sing at the same time.
I had enrolled in Middlebury’s immersion program. I contracted to speak no English for nine weeks in order to read and write this Middle Eastern Language. I desperately wanted to take on Arabic since I was involved here in Orlando in Middle East peacemaking. I would bond more easily with the local Arabic people.
As the class progressed, there was no doubt. Arabic’s strange calligraphy and guttural sounds were leading me into a depression so strong that one day, I simply got up from class, tears rolling down my cheeks, and walked down to the river’s old Middlebury bridge. To this day, I remember staring down long and hard at the dancing rapids inviting me to join them.
That night, I lay in bed, eyes swollen after that long cry. I could not talk to anyone there. Unlike hermits who value their silence, I felt desperately alone by my imposed quiet. Never before had I been so violently thrown apart from a community, so beaten down as if I were a nobody, a dunce. I was fifty-five years old. It shouldn’t be happening to me.
At some point that next morning, with the help a bright beaming sun, I began to reinvent the entire experience, wondering if I could turn trauma into triumph. Could I discover something far more essential? I decided to skip class and let my bike take me to the Middlebury Library. Something sparked as I moved among the library shelves, pulling off books, dropping some in my haste, taking them outside onto the lawn chairs, desperately hopeful to heal my drooping spirit. I sat reading and re-reading. I marked passages in my notebook, studied stories, poured over self-help books, bios. I asked God to speak to me through these familiar letters and words in the author’s English language.
English was singing in my head, and I realized how much I had missed its loving melodies. For weeks, I had not spoken or listened to this native language. I threw down that promise not to speak or write English and under leafy maples, I pulled out my notebook. My pen pushed into my story, my questions to myself. I wrote Dear God letters and letters to my bruised spirit. I felt sweet kinship with the whistling birds in treetops. Little did I suspect but my ability to write was being born from that quiet of times under Vermont’s green.
Calmly resting in the serene landscape of Vermont, I found my sanity returning from this language freedom. I sang, other times wept, chantepleure happening in its deepest meaning. It was abundantly clear. I was the caterpillar gestating and longing in the moments to break free.
Now, only with years passed, can I look back with gratitude for that summer’s chantepleure. That writing of a heartbreak exchange between pain and loss included prayers to God who, in the entire process, had never failed to move me forward to a place where, unknown to me, I really wanted to go. It was not so much wanting to stand up as an Arabic speaking communicator, but to enter a field where my communicating words would inspire others by life’s good twists and turns.
Eventually, my writing focused on a subject that grew out of the $5,000 loss. I spent that money, not to learn Arabic, but to fall in love with my native language. I published my first book, Money As Sacrament, the product of a silent hope, a gift to others and most especially, God’s gift to me.