It sounds really old – almost prehistoric – to say I graduated from college 43 years ago. Since I knew I was going to be attending seminary on my way to being ordained as a United Methodist elder, I shot through college in three years, and since I graduated from high school at 17 ½, I was only 20 when I got my bachelor’s degree. For good or ill, I realized my undergraduate major was not going to greatly affect my work in seminary, so instead of picking up a business major, or something like that, I decided I would get a psychology major instead.
That is, until I met Dr. Palanca. Louis Palanca was a short, pure Italian-American who was a self-described “linguistic spy” during World War 2. He ended up working in Italy, and he was able to listen to a suspected spy’s dialect, and determine, when they said they were from a certain area of Italy, whether they were lying, because their dialect didn’t match up to the language they were speaking. After the war, he went back to school and earned his PhD., and somehow ended up teaching at the University of North Dakota. He was part of the Classical Languages department, and taught the Latin classes.
To show how God works, three years before my oldest brother Ray also attended UND for one year, and he would come home at talk about taking Latin, and how he enjoyed it. When I was signing up for classes, I decided to try Latin myself, and after one week, I changed my major intention from psychology to Latin. Now, just to be honest, I can’t speak Latin today, and can barely read it. It’s not a dead language, but you really need to use it in order not to lose it. What Latin did provide me, however, and what has been part of my life for over four decades, is a love of words, and their roots and their origins. We all speak more powerfully and more concise when we are able to sharply hone the use of words in our speech and writing. To say something is “good,” we might mean it is okay, or passable or tolerable or decent or admirable or wholesome, true, noble, decent or any other more descriptive ways of qualifying something. I constantly break words down to discover their origin, and their meaning today. I remember being taught that the name “Amanda,” comes from the root “amare” meaning “to love” and when there is an “nda,” or ndo at the end of the word, it becomes a gerund, so that the name means, “She who must be loved,” or “She who is worthy of love.” How great our language can be!
So I spent three years with Dr. Palanca, taking every course he taught. True to his prediction, as I studied Latin, there grew inside me an internal discipline, as the language taught me order, and the words and their endings showed the subtle strength of an informed choice of noun or adjective – or gerund. Like I said, after so many years, I can no longer converse in the language, but I expect I use it every day, sifting out the meaning of words and their impact. It was a blessing to learn how to use such a tool of communication, and I used it whenever I prepared a sermon or a talk, or communicated in writing, or creating curriculum.
In my last year of college, in addition to the Latin courses, I decided to take a year of Italian, since it was taught by Dr. Palanca. There were actually three Latin majors on campus, and we all decided to take Italian from the “magister.” As rigid and structured as Latin was, Italian was a twice-weekly hour of conversation and stories and laughter, and learning to sing Italian songs, and twice we were invited to Dr. Palanca’s home for a “real” Italian meal. He actually had told his colleagues a few years before that he would be taking the summer off to go back to Italy and find a wife. They laughed at him, until in August, Mrs. Palanca came to Grand Forks to live with him… and boy, could she cook…
I learned some great phrases and their meaning. “Ciao” really is a shortened version of “Io sono il suo schiavo.” It means, “I am your slave.” I learned to say to various girls I dated, “Per te, vita mia, sospira il mio cuore.” “For you, My life, my heart sighs…” The college girls I knew all loved Italian…
I graduated, went on to seminary, and got busy living and doing all I needed to do. However, I never forgot the joy and the fun of Italian. It really is a pretty simple language to speak, and although I have never been there, I hope some day when the pandemic is done to take a trip to Italy, and see the sights and enjoy the culture. So, with retirement, I have been thinking that this might be the season to become reacquainted with the language, to relearn and remember the vocabulary, and knock some of the rust off the linguistic section of my brain.
The process of learning a second language has been utterly transformed with the internet age. 43 years ago, there was a textbook, a workbook with sentences to construct, and a teacher. Nowadays, it’s a matter of logging in, and either repeating out loud what the computer “says,” or typing in or clicking on the right answers, without having to leave your comfy computer chair. I had asked for a subscription to a language learning site for Christmas, when my oldest son, Aaron, pointed me to a no-cost, pretty good learning platform that I could log on to and learn at my speed and even better, for free.
I began the course yesterday. I took the pre-test, and was surprised at what I remembered, and also how little I remembered, but the first lesson was pretty fun, and we will see what today brings. Just like doing crossword puzzles in ink, and keeping a jigsaw puzzle in process on the table, and reading books and articles about things I have never thought about, learning a language forces my brain to open up and find new pathways to problem solve and to remember. As I have said, I want these years to be intentional, not accidental.
I would hope you would find the same urge to keep going. No matter what age you may be, there is always a little bit of rust and dust on parts of the brain that can be challenged and re-formed. A recent article reported that there is a growing “pandemic fatigue,” as more and more persons have grown tired of the hobbies and the meals, and the utter sameness of each day during this time in our world. One way to maintain an integrity to our lives is by constantly challenging ourselves to find new goals, new interests and new questions to follow. We don’t know how this will work out, and winter does become a darker time. This is however the time to prepare ourselves for the new season that someday will arrive. The more intentional we are about focusing on the future, and also, I believe, about prayer, the more abundant life we live now, and the more able we will be to assume that new life as it unfolds before us, perhaps sooner than we thought. So, Ciao for now, and Prego.
Word for the day: lambent. Pronounced simply LAM-bunt, it’s a “nice” word. It comes – of course – from the Latin lambere, which means “to lick.” It’s almost exclusively used to describe flames, that “lick” the surface, or that move about, almost fluttering, touching lightly without searing or burning. It would be gentle flames, radiant, that draws person to watch it for a while. We find a calm and a certain peace when we gaze at lambent flames. The other way it is used, is with language. It describes conversation or speech that is kind, and yet witty. It entertains, but doesn’t go the way of sarcasm or biting critical language. It’s probably best imagined as the language that you would use to talk to a small child. Gentle, entertaining, but gentle. As should most of our conversations go…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.