Friday, April 24, 2009

Good, Clean Fun

Today marks A's 2-week anniversary here. She and L, her 2 1/2 year old daughter, moved here to learn about living with sheep--a learning experience now officially called Sheep Boot Camp.

It is a truly a joy to live and work with someone who is enthusiastic, hard-working, intelligent, a quick learner, and good-natured. We know there my be some lumps and bumps along the way, but we're off to a great start, with good, relaxed communication.

So after a long, intense day recently, we relaxed in the comfy chairs in the living room for a little while. Somehow in the course of conversation, a commonplace "cuss word" slipped into an exclamation she made, as we were swapping vignettes from our lives.

"SORRY" she said, clearly embarrassed and afraid she's offended me. "I'll be more careful."

We had had a long chat earlier about her frequent apologies and use of the word "sorry," and we'd come up with some more positive acknowledgements that she hadn't lived up to her expectations of herself.

"You mean, 'we're learning'?" I prompted.

"Yeah." She laughed at herself for continuing to exercise the long-ingrained habit. We smiled at each other. We laughed together at ourselves. Laughing felt good.

People always assume that because I'm obviously Christian, I'm offended by strong language. Actually, I'm pretty $%^& fluent in "French", myself--having hung out with construction workers quite a bit in my younger days.

"Not a big deal," I replied, amused. I began, at a leisurely pace, to explain my attitude towards language.

"It isn't particular words, it's how they're used. They're just sounds, after all. The intent is what really matters, to me. If you are intending to use words to shock or hurt or offend me, then I don't like that. But if it's just the language you use, no big deal. I can understand it well enough to translate into language I would prefer, in my head. "G--D---M-----F-----" is just another way of saying "I smacked my thumb with the hammer and it really, really hurts. Why would that offend me?

"I used to have a really foul mouth myself, but I don't use those words much any more just because I've gotten out of the habit. I don't even try to not say them. I just try to really THINK about what I say, about the words I use. About what they really mean. Do they really express what I'm feeling? I mean, like, what the "sex" am I really trying to say?"

She started giggling again.

I continued, "So I try to figure out what I really mean and say that. I've learned to be much more creative and specific. When you stop to think about it, most foul language is really just laziness--not taking the time to figure out what we're really feeling, and not taking the time to find the exact right words to clearly express it."

"You're right," she said. A thoughtful pause. "I do want to clean up my language, because of L. I don't want her learning to use those words. I hadn't thought about the meanings. I just usually try to substitute a word."

"You mean like"Clorox" instead of the f-word?" It just sort of popped out of my mouth, without thinking it through. But the connections started forming as soon as the word was out. There was no going back.

Now we're really laughing! Part of the day's learning and labor was extensive details on sanitation procedures for the equipment we use in post-harvest handling of the produce we grow for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Bleach plays a starring role in that process, so it was right there in recent memory in our tired minds.

"It's pretty much got the right sounds..." I went on, laughing harder. A. was doubling up.

"Oh, Clorox!" one of us declared, trying it out. We rolled.

"...and no one will need to have their mouth washed out with soap!" We were howling, gasping, wiping tears of laughter from our eyes...and then doing it all over again.

I can't remember when the last time was that I laughed so hard. It made me aware of something that has been missing from my life for longer than I can think: The sort of intelligent, clever silliness that hurts no one except the pain of laughing until there's a stitch in your side. Humor that isn't hurtful or insulting or belittling to anyone, whether present or not--stereotype-free, non-rascist, gender-neutral, non-lewd humor. Playfullness that is appropriate, harmless, not carried to excess. A welcome release of the last residue of tension at the end of a good, but long, day. It's a kind of humor that grows out of working together well.

Good, clean Clorox.

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