Sunday, April 22, 2012


Having alluded a number of times to Mando'a now, and finding myself in more of a blogging state of mind lately, I thought I would meditate a bit on what exactly I'm getting out of all of this. Twilight observed recently that the whole Mando thing for me seems bound up in my relationship with Thayet, which is an accurate observation, so I thought it appropriate to determine the traditional Mando marriage vow. This consists of four first person plural declarative sentences. Owing to the time-elasticity of the Mando'a "present" tense, these are both statements of identity and promises of future behavior, but I'll translate in the English present tense.

Mhi solus a tome. Mhi solus dar'tome. Mhi me'dinui an. Mhi bajuri verde.

We are one together. We are one apart. We share all. We raise warriors.

The exchange of these statements is all it takes in Mando law for two people to marry each other. Neither witnesses nor synchronicity are required - if you want to explore the boundaries of what's legally allowed, you can think of it as a sort of offer and acceptance. For example, it wouldn't matter if one person makes the statements via text message on April 3, and the other made them via Skype on April 14, so long as the person who wanted to be married on April 3 still wanted to be married on April 14. Obviously this has not happened in my life, though fortunately for me I don't expect the validity of my marriage to be challenged under Mando law any time soon. And while an exchange of this kind would be super cool, the real significance for me of all this is as a shorthand to encapsulate what I think about marriage.

Mhi solus a tome.
We are one when together. We will be one when together. The value here - and this comes across better in the Mando'a than the English, I think - is as a declaration, a promise. I promise that I will be one with you when we are together. How so one? Not as halves of a person, surely. We are personal, but we are not a person. Only I, only you can be a person. I fall back on the only model I have of the super-personal: if I am to become part of something without diminishing my personhood, it must be something like my heart is part of me. My heart is my heart, separate and distinct and completely described as "my heart," but it is also part of me - and, crucially, while my heart is not less a heart if it is not a part of me, I am less a body if my heart is not a part of it. Of course a heart cannot survive without my body, so the analogy breaks down there. Call it like a family, if you are fortunate enough to know what it is like for a family that is a living, breathing, entity in its own right. I can survive apart from my family (as my heart cannot apart from me), but my family is nevertheless less my family - indeed, less a family, period - if I am not part of it. But - and this is where the heart is perhaps a better analogy after all - while I can survive apart from my family, I am diminished by not having its blood pump through me. Think of it like the Godhead, if you're used to thinking of God as a super-personal entity. God is still God if the Son is not part of God. And the Son is still the Son if it is not part of God. But God is diminished by separation from the Son, and the Son is diminished by separation from God.

When we are one, I think it is because we are part of a super-personal entity that is diminished by the lack of either of us. I am still me whether I am married or not. But I should also diminished by not being part of - by not being one with - that marriage. How so diminished? Not in that I should lack anything I possessed, or was, before I got married. More as if something good and vital pumped through me and is now pumping through me no longer. I cannot think of a very good analogy, but I am reminded of Lewis' observation that Christians have always pictured divorce as more like cutting a body than anything else. Cut off from my marriage, I am still me, but my riduur's blood, which surged through me and nourished me, surges through me no more.

How so together? Together in space and time, certainly. We are never one by default; we must choose to be one and God must give consequence to that choice (more on this in a later post, perhaps?). When we are together in time and space, when we have the opportunity to hold and touch and speak, then of all times we must choose to be one. But also together in beliefs and temperament. When it is easiest to be one, we must choose so to be.

Mhi solus dar'tome.
We are one when apart - or more literally, "not together." As we must choose to be one when it is easiest, so we must choose to be one when it is hardest. When we are not together in space and time. When we are not together in beliefs or temperament.

This is one of the must significant portions of the riduurok to me, and one of the things that drew me to Mando'a when I first discovered it. This sentiment already had a Natalian expression: "I will love you no matter what you do, or who you are." That is essentially how I understand God to love. This is not really even about love so much as the nature of promise. Suppose I promise to make it to my daughter's school play, or fencing match. What conditions are entailed in that promise? What if traffic is just really bad? What if a client has a problem that came up unexpectedly? What if I'm the only person who knows enough to fix it? When do I get to say, "I didn't break my promise. I never promised to make it if X happened."

Maybe some contingencies are implicitly included in a promise like that. If I miss a fencing match because I stopped to help the victim of a hit-and-run to the hospital, I didn't really break my promise, did I? I imagine a lot of people would say I didn't. I think I actually prefer to think that I did break my promise, and hopefully Meshparjai would forgive me.

But what if it isn't a promise to make it to an event? What if it's a promise to love somebody. What contingencies, if any, are implicitly included in a promise like that? One cannot know who another person will be in the next moment, let alone in years to come. If you love dancing together, what if that person later stops dancing? If you love that person's sense of honor, what if their sense of honor evolves to something unrecognizable? If you love their faith in something, what if they lose it? What if their personality changes in a way you would never have predicted and find utterly monstrous? What if? What if?

I recently saw Finding Nemo with Meshparjai, and I am reminded of Marlin's question to Dory: "How do you know something bad won't happen?" Dory's answer: "I don't." We never do, and God certainly offers us no assurances. "Nothing bad will happen" is not among the promises that God makes. So we have two choices. We can either try to anticipate all the things that will make it too hard to love somebody, and carve those out of our promise either explicitly or implicitly, or we can promise to love anyway.

Of course, no matter how thoughtfully we approach the promise, the time will come when we look at our beloved and wail, "I didn't sign up for this!" Something will come up over the course of a love relationship, probably more than once, that causes us to say, "I shouldn't have to love you like this." And we will be right. It will be something that nobody should have to love anybody else through. But for myself, I am ashamed to seize the excuse that fairness offers when I remember that Jesus had the opportunity to do as much for me, and refused. Why? Because he promised to love me, no matter what. Even when it was unfair. Even when it was unjust. Even when he got nothing out of our relationship. Even when acting on his love was to his personal detriment.

Insert the obligatory caveat about God being perfect and us not being perfect and not being God and blah blah blah here. But by God, I can try. Mhi solus dar'tome.

Mhi me'dinui an.
Share. We will ... share. Share what? Property, certainly. I think separate property regimes are fundamentally at odds with what marriage is. To be honest, I don't feel nearly as much pride about the fact that California recognizes my right to, say, religious freedom as I do about the fact that California recognizes that I do not earn income. We do.

So property, yes, of course. Do we share dreams? I don't mean hold dreams in common, though may there ever be dreams that we do. I mean do we tell each other about our dreams? Do we share our feelings? Do we communicate? We won't by default. It must be promised. What about when we're trying to avoid a fight? What about when what we have to share is only anger and hatred for each other? What about when we are empty and drained, and have nothing to share? Do we promise to share all, even then? I think we should. Mhi me'dinui an.

Mhi bajuri verde.
What makes a warrior? The silent workmanlike butchery of the Spartans? The refusal to admit defeat of the Romans? The passion of the Picts? Is it skill at arms, a strong spiritual core? Is it to embrace the desire to see one's enemies utterly destroyed? An ethic of victory that offers mercy to the vanquished? Esprit de corps?

I like to meditate on this question, but if I had to put down an answer, I would say that a warrior is praus as Jesus was praus (link). My understanding of that begins with a true assessment of what is a threat and what is not. I understand Jesus to have been a person who knew that many things that most people would think are threats in fact are not, and thus require no violent response. I also understand Jesus to be somebody who would fuck your shit up if you actually were a threat. I don't want Meshparjai to be a "violent" woman. But I do want her to be a woman of force. I want her to be the kind of woman who is serene in the face of things that would drive others into fits - but when she is presented with a real threat, I want her to have the will and the skill to obliterate it with absolute finality, with utter suddenness and unfettered by notions of fair play.

But of course, not just Meshparjai. And not just her siblings, God willing that she have any. I do not rear only the blood of my blood, but all children who come into my life. And as the childrearing lessons I teach my children are passed on to their friends, I rear those children as well.

So how so bajuri verde? On the one hand, by teaching her the skills of force. I would identify these, at least, as skills of force: How to kill, how to explain one's beliefs, how to question one's beliefs, how to acquire new beliefs, how to pray, how to engage demons. And on the other hand, by teaching her how, when, and why to use those skills. By teaching her just who Jesus was and was not, and in what way he was praus.

No comments: