"I regard language to be the crown jewel of a culture, written language the crown jewel of a civilization. Calligraphy is the practice of making language as beautiful to the eye as it is to the ear and the tongue, the combination of the three making the language especially beautiful to the human mind of the individual speaking/hearing/writing/reading it, and an adornment to the human civilization that created it."
Above is an excerpt from an email I recently recieved from my father. It touched me so much that I find it appropriate to share with you (dad I hope you don't mind), along with the following, which was my response to him--minorly edited, but otherwise verbatim-- and a very basic representation of the ideas that have occupied my mind of late. After all, a blog is intended to not only express what I am seeing and doing, but also, where my mind is.
[Context: I was speechless in response to my dad's email, esp the above excerpt]
"I should acknowlede that my inadequacy to articulate myself here stems directly from two circumstances. First is my general lack of proficiency in the english language, which I am henceforth determined to improve during my lifetime. What a fabulous and uncomparably admirable achievement, mastery of the art of articulation and clarity in speech. Sadly, though I could blame my current english deficiency on perhaps the boring nature of vocab quizzes in third grade or tiring nature of studying for SATs, there is no fact more revelaing of my current situation than that I simply have not, for whatever reasons, been bright enough realize how much I take the beauty of language for granted. Second, though I have begun to discover with fascination the importance of language to a civilization, the "crown jewel" as you so precisely and eloquently labeled it, your email came at a time when your beautiful articulation of the meaning of [particularly written] language was notably resonant.
"When doing my exercises for calligraphy class in my homestay family's living room last week, my family gathered around me, and while my host father borrowed my bamboo pen to show off his skills from Qu'ranic school and share with me the refinement of his written language, I noticed my host mother looking on anxiously. The words that bloomed from my host father's hand were spectacular. This culture is indelibly intertwined with a profound respect for calligraphic beauty, comparable in some ways to that of China. I have not before last week consciously recognized such a revealing factor connecting my attraction to the two languages that I have happened to become enthralled by, as their shared reverence for the art of the written word. In arabic, part of this reverence is irrevocably tied to the simple fact that arabic is the language and script of the Qu'ran, while in chinese, the symbolism of beauty in writing has been a significant piece of culture since the creation of the written tradition.
"After my host father spent a significant amount of time instructing and assisting me as i practiced for pages on end the art of the simple dot, that my calligraphy teacher spent four months developing before he was allowed to even attempt a letter (http://www.global-lab.org/mt/MoroccoFall2007/2007/11/calligraphy.html ), he left the room, and i was left with my host mother. I had written out the alphabet at the request of my host father so that he could ensure i knew every letter, even if not how to properly write them in calligraphy. She picked up my slightly skewed alphabet and began to try to pick out letters. The first one she recognized was
naturally "alif", also the first letter of the alphabet, of course. But from there, she tried to guess at a few letters, incorrectly, and it was then that I discovered her illiteracy. My host mother is brilliant. She has been my primary arabic teacher in my home, unequivocally patient and with an incredible sense of humor. She has begun to talk to me more about her life, and the other day gave me a breakdown of the impact of world-wide pollution, focusing on natural dangers in morocco surrounding the desperately low situation of water tables and exuberant gas emissions in all cities, now pushing outwards into the countryside (i would be amazed that i understood any of it, except that she has a way of using her hands and intonations to describe with crystal clarity things that i barely understand in english, never mind arabic). She has had no formal education. And yet, she is more knowledgable than nearly anyone I know, about everything from the intricacies of Pakistani politics, to the details of organizations that work to minimize cultural taboos surrounding people with birth defects (like cleft lips, for example) all over
Africa. Should i be surprised at her inability to read a children's story, never mind a newspaper?
"Since last week upon my discovery of her illiteracy, my host mother and I have worked together every night on learning the Arabic script. She has already memorized all of the letters and is writing them well, so now we are beginning to work on writing and reading words. Her ability to pick up the written language will most likely soon surpass mine, even though i have been working on it for months. I am amazed, and at the same time touched by this incredible opportunity. Her desire to learn and dedication to practice has given me an indescribable insight into the importance and beauty of langauge. She has desperately desired to learn for a long time, but has always been too embarrased and ashamed by her lack of such a "simple skill" that she has not seeked assistance. She describes how excited she is to master this script and be able to read the Qu'ran, which, though she knows by heart, has not had the opportunity to read. She lacks the ability to enjoy this essential part of her heritage, an adornment to the human civilization, her ancestors, that created it. And through her desires, she has begun to convey to me how incrediblly valuable my own language is to my identity, in all its intricacies, both written and spoken."