A few days ago I got to read the German translation of the second sermon to my grandmother. It was a peak experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
This past year of 2022 has been my least favorite yet, and I’m not even Ukrainian. I’ve been violated, vilified and severely depressed. But I also got an immense amount of support, and part of that is that I got to end the year, without the kids and not wanting to be alone, at the house of my parents and my mother’s parents. Everyone there was sick, me too, and we spent a few days caring for each other that were deeply filled with joy and meaning.
My grandmother is a wondrous woman, a scientist who worked in crop protection and taught me microscopy at an early age. I suppose my sense of wonder at the workings of the natural world, the emotional heart of the sermons, was also imbued by her, one way or the other. I told her of the sermons years ago, but her English isn’t good enough for poetry, and she became the main reason I started to translate the sermons into German. Two years ago I gifted her the translation of the first sermon, and she reacted as enthusiastically as I had hoped. Over the years a few people have told me that the sermons have changed their experience of the world – like the night sky looks different to them now. But my grandmother said it most emphatically, and kept bringing it up. So I was keen to do more of these translations, just for her in particular, although of course I’d also publish them. My grandmother’s intimate familiarity with everything botanical is also the reason the German translation of the second sermon uses a few more botanical metaphors than the original.
With Christmas as a helpfully motivating deadline, and with the help of proofreading friends, I got the second part done in time, but my grandmother was so sick she couldn’t listen to anything for 15 minutes straight. A couple of days later, when she was better, she wanted to first hear the first one again. But that overwhelmed her, again, so hard she couldn’t have another, so we waited another day for the reading of the new one. This was the night between 2022 and 2023. I’m glad we waited, it was perfect that way, carefully prepared, with the midday sun on her enraptured face. A few times I had to go back because she was screaming with delight, or because she wanted to hear some part again. And as I had hoped, she didn’t know about our future interstellar propagation of life, and was utterly amazed by that prospect.
So that couldn’t have gone better. And still, the second sermon was only preparation, because the one that I have the most overwhelming urge to read to her is the third one. That’s where the story becomes almost purely biological, and very spiritual at the same time. I know it is perfect for her. I feel I need to read it to her, and given her age and frailty I better do it soon. So I set myself the deadline of July 2nd, her 91st birthday, which is very ambitious given the ongoing chaos in my life. It is starting well. I have already translated 20 of the 80 stanzas. But I picked among the easy ones first, and from experience, the hardest stanzas to translate take more time than five easy ones. And there are quite a number of hard ones – I’ll have no choice but to get better at what I do.
I also changed a few things on this website, but since you’re one of the approximately three people who read it, you already noticed that.
I have downgraded the idea of rapping the sermons to “might try eventually” because I haven’t yet found any way for the energy and verve of that form to compensate for the loss of flexibility in cadence.
And I’m starting voice training. Hopefully I’ll get to a point where I can make a recording of the song that doesn’t sound to bad.