I never felt comfortable with people’s requests for me to speak in Igbo, the language that was spoken around my home throughout my childhood. Mostly because those requests made me feel like a show monkey whose purpose was to entertain the group of people around the table by speaking in another tongue. But I also declined those requests because I’ve never felt like Igbo was a beautiful language. It certainly doesn’t roll of the tongue with the sensuous ease of the more glorified Spanish or Italian languages. It’s always sounded harsh and uninviting to me, and unless necessary, I never really chose to speak it.
Yet despite its lack of allure, I’m giving more thought to the only other language I can speak besides English. While its cadence is still unpleasant to my ears, the meanings packed within its phrases are astounding. My recent favorite is the phrase, “A hurum gi n’anya.” Its equivalent in the English language would be “I love you.” But that translation cheapens the beauty buried in that phrase.
You see, “A hurum gi n’anya” translated literally means, “I see you with my eyes.” What an incredible thing. What a contrast to the popular belief that love is blind. How beautiful that at the point when this language was formulated, people believed that love had its eyes open, seeing all of who you are. The extraordinary amount of vulnerability and nakedness that is required for this phrase to be true blows me away. Love wasn’t naive or visually impaired; it wasn’t constantly head in the clouds. Love was practical, and complete, and a choice. It wasn’t surprised by flaws or shortcomings, it wasn’t shocked by the humanity of the loved. It saw, very clearly, the other person in their entirety and still chose to stand there, making a well informed decision to choose them forever.
How different would our world be today if that was the view of love we still abided by? What if we embraced the reality of flawed people instead of choosing to walk around blind, accepting only the parts of a person that are appealing to us? As a child, I always wondered why the divorce rate in my country was vastly lower than the countries in the Western hemisphere. Maybe this explains it. Maybe it’s because love and relationships and marriage didn’t depend simply on a horde of butterflies invading your stomach, or complete incoherence in the presence of another, or irrepressible giddiness. Maybe it’s because of the deliberate, conscious contemplation of a person as a whole, amidst the butterflies and incoherent speech.
This is the love I want to hold out for. Not one consisting purely of emotions or logic, but one that embraces both wholeheartedly. One that chooses to keep its eyes open, while extending its heart. One that won’t walk away when flaws surface because it wasn’t living in a fantasy world where the other person was perfection embodied. That’s the type of lover I want to be – one who sees and also chooses not to run away.
And that’s what my heart craves the most – to be seen for who I am and to be chosen regardless of what is beheld. This, of course, requires willingness and bravery in order to let myself be seen. But the beauty and possibility of this kind of love is worth the risk of getting wounded in the process of unveiling myself. You can’t love someone you don’t know; you can’t be known if you hide behind walls. Life these days calls for more nakedness than I’m used to, but it’s well worth the risk.