Since my last post was titled “Christmas is For Everyone, Not Just Christians”, maybe this one should be “New Year’s is Not Just for Newyearsians” — I’ll have to think on that before I post this.
Well, anyway, so much for New Year’s resolutions. Somehow they don’t necessarily focus one on something he or she wants to do and make one do it. My resolution last year, stated in my German-American blog, ‘von Walther’ (I added the “von” to give it class), was to put more effort into that blog. And then I proceeded through the whole year of 2011 and never did another post — I kept meaning to.
You see, I have this ongoing conflict with identity and ethnicity and language. Probably the bulk of white Americans (and probably of those of other shades too) don’t spend a whole lot of time on this — I mean we white Americans, especially, are mostly a Heinz 57-variety of nationalities and English is the language of our nation, so there you are. We have an identity, Americans, and a common language, English. And we have hot dogs and hamburgers (German name, but USA through and through, hamburgers I‘m talking about, although that applies to me as well).
But everyone has their own individual interests, and one, or I should say two, of mine are ethnicity and language.
I know, what does this all have to do with New Year’s? I’ll get to that.
Anyway, as far as I know, my main ethnic components are: German (my surname is Walther), French (my dad’s mother was first-generation French in this country), and English, from my mother’s side (maybe some Irish), and also some more German from my mother’s side, as well.
So, anyway, I have this thing about wanting to identify with a cultural group of which I may be related. I used to always think of myself as German (I was stationed in Germany when I was in the Army). I still do. But we are just as much a part of one side of the family as the other. So I also think of myself as French. And of course I am English and maybe Irish too.
While I don’t think my mom has any French blood in her, she has always been kind of a French fan, I am thinking. She did visit France once. And when I was a little boy she used to say I looked like a little Frenchman.
As an adult, I have come to the conclusion that as far as appearance, I probably look more French than German, although the actual ethnicity in many French and German people might well be hard to discern — not all Germans are blond and blue-eyed and not all Frenchmen are short and run around wearing berets.
Now to language. I enrolled in Spanish when I was in high school, but I was too immature to buckle down and study and get the feel for a foreign language. I dropped out — no I was kicked out.
But later, in college, I studied Spanish and did well, but of course like most people who take it, I did not become fluent. You really have to use a language and live within it to become fluent. Of course in the United States it is quite possible to do just that with Spanish, which is a de facto official second language here. In fact — and I kick myself for this — in my job as an over-the-road truck driver (which I’ve been doing since 1995) if I had only kept studying my Spanish and using it, I would be fluent by now (even so I do use it a little and it comes in handy and adds to the enjoyment of being able to communicate and break the ice with others, and it is a beautiful language).
And then there is French: I’m in love with that language. I love to hear it spoken. And while I don’t really know what being French is all about, I feel a certain identity with it. A couple of years ago when my wife was still alive, I recall that I had checked a book out of the library that was about an English couple who loved France and went there to live. As I read it and looked at the photos I told my wife that I had an epiphany. I discovered I was French. That’s nice dear, she seemed to suggest in her smile.
She likely recalled that before that I was believing that I was German and she would have recalled that I tried to get her to study German with me. I did learn quite a few phrases in German — too bad I didn’t know any when I was in the U.S. Army there.
But I am really on to this French thing. About a year ago I found a book of photos at the book store. It is: “Doisneau Paris”, and it is a collection of black and white photographs made by a French photographer. I don’t know, maybe it was because I was lonely — lost really. My wife had recently died. But as I thumbed through the pages and looked at the photographs — many or most of them what you might call character studies, as well as scenes that seemed to capture the essence of life in Paris and of the French — I felt like I had found my people.
I was so taken with it all that I told the cashier that I looked at the photos and thought: “that’s me”!
She came back with some strange remark that in effect there are only about three or so appearances — everyone looks pretty much alike in the world. But I walked out of the store overwhelmed with my new sense of identity nonetheless.
So the identity part of my conflict is all but settled (although of course I yam what I yam, as Popeye would say).
But as far as language, I still like German, but I am most interested in French (even though I know almost none and have not studied much) and then Spanish, it being by far the most useful, and I think it closely rivals French for beauty to the ear, and in fact, I sometimes feel like Spanish is even more pleasing than French to my ears — a toss up really — heck I like Italian too, and all three, of course, are Latin languages. I was, am, so enthralled with French that I began a French-American blog. I did two posts and then did no more — just could not come up with the material.
And that’s the trouble with New Year’s resolutions for many of us. We have too many conflicts and just saying something does not get the job done. I guess it has to be in our hearts.
So whether it is spend more time with your family, be nicer and more loving to your spouse, learn a foreign language, get a better job or do better at your job or just get a job, or whatever, if it is not in your heart it won’t happen.
Even so, I feel compelled to make some resolutions:
1. Spend more time with my daughters, whether they like it or not.
2. Spend more time with my grandchildren, whether they like it or not.
3. Learn French.
4. Become fluent in Spanish.
5. And not necessarily in this order, but demonstrate somehow to God or whoever controls all of this, that I do appreciate the gifts of nature and Mother Earth and to do my small part to promote peace and happiness for the world.
6. To maintain my interest in politics, but since it has gotten so crazy and irrational, to step back from it just a little and enjoy life as so many sane and happy people do.
HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR 2012!
The “Newyearsians” headline did not seem to be appropriate after all.