for the first time [he] wondered what you could think
if all you spoke was a language with words enough
for cooking and farm work and gossip. — from “Songs of Enough” by Julia Kasdorf

There’s a lot of silence at these tables where the world circumscribes us tight like a quilt. The faces change – my granny, my great-aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friend’s Brethren parents and sister; the experience stays similar. Quiet, careful discussions of babies and crops and the way dinner was made. These are people whose life encompasses who and what they see each day. We can spend ten minutes deciding, as a group, how to rehang a shelf or discuss exactly why the tomatoes aren’t coming in yet. I think there is great beauty in this.

I also find myself frustrated at times. I have so much more to say.

So I understand Kasdorf’s poem, even if I don’t speak Dutchy, as my grandmother did (and does again when I ask). I know what it is to sit in a group of people and feel them stroll into the limits of their language and experience very quickly. In these moments, my refuge is to discuss books, to talk about what we’re reading that we love. These folks, though, don’t read much, or if they read, their books are those of their world – coverings and canning and these quiet dinners. My books of witches and motorcycle mechanics and museums are foreign to them, forbidden even sometimes. I feel stilted, cut off. They don’t. We don’t know what we’re missing if we don’t know it exists.

I want to make a pronouncement about this, claim that everyone – every single person on earth – needs to read more, experience more, live out in the world at large. I want to say this because I believe it. I am a stronger person because my world is broad.
'Old Order Mennonite Women on Jet Skis' photo (c) 2009, Kurt and Sybilla - license:

But I also know that there is great blessing in a small world. Everyone is known. There are rules. It’s safer . . . most of the time. Simplicity is underrated.

Yet, as I sit and hear the absence maybe only I know at these dinners, I wonder what happens when the world tilts askew – when a fiance jilts her for her cousin, when a woman you have cared for deeply dies while you watch, when your child makes a choice to scar himself with the knives of addiction. What do you do in a world so small that no one has known these things, or if they have, they do not speak of it for shame or fear? What if you do not have the words to circumscribe your own pain?

My very thoughts are built of words and songs. When I hurt and question, they are what I turn to. I sing out songs of praise and promise. I bury myself in stories. I remind myself of what I know because I have seen it, because I have lived it – all is well. In the end, all is well.

As these words come forth today, I see that I am the one who is limited by my inability to go back, to return to a place where I don’t know. I have stepped beyond, and I cannot go back. What is it like to live in a world where there are only “words enough for cooking and farm work and gossip?” Is it nice there?