Wednesday, May 25, 2011


knock, Knock, Knock!

“Come in?”

No one comes in. Buddy, the fluffy white cuddle terror of the neighborhood barks, warning passersby that he’s ready to give them a cute puppy smile and curl up with them until their souls are filled with puppy love.

“Coming! Quiet, Buddy.” I pat his head and grab the dog’s collar so he’ll quiet down. From my bent position, I glance out the screen door. Since only half of the door is screen, I can only see the nappy head of our little neighbor, Sean.

“Kin Budshau?”

“No, I can’t come outside right now and watch him. Sorry.”

He turns and scuffs off down our front porch, and I give Buddy another pat.

The resident Cuddle Master
The first time Sean said, “Kin Budshau?” I had to ask him to repeat the question at least six times. He patiently did so, but it wasn’t until I stopped thinking about his words and about what he always wants when he on our door that I made the linguistic leap to “Can Buddy come out?”

From then on, Sean and I have understood one another for the most part, although I think he finds my constant refusals to let him drag Buddy around the neighborhood without supervision a little onerous.

Now that I’ve moved out, on to a new apartment for the summer, I realize why I thought this little snippet was important enough to write down.

“God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of humankind; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Luckily a lot of books and movies are variations on this Ecclesiastes theme. They have prepared me for what the Russians call “toska.”

The closest word in English is “angst.” But of course, this word has traveled far from its German roots and has become more than a little cliché in describing the woes of wealthy teenage girls.
The opposite of toska. Apparently sea otters hold hands
to keep from drifting apart while they sleep.
The cutest thing in life just got cuter.

As Vladimir Nabokov says,

“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

God has set eternity into our hearts, but the life we live is ephemeral, cyclical. We meet new people; we settle into a comfortable friendship; then maybe we run up against a little contention. By the time we finally figure it out and learn to speak their “Kin Budshau” language, it’s time for another goodbye.

How unfair. How beautiful. How toska.

1 comment:

  1. like. like. like!
    good work with the "kin budshau". i did the exact same thing--you captured my thoughts about translating that perfectly!
    haha. and for some reason, i always imagined sean's name spelled like "shawn". heh.