Here — in, at, or to this place, position.
I have taken speaking for granted. I am just shy of 40, and I do not have a memory of learning to talk, nor do I have a memory of being taught to speak. There is no dreamy sequence lodged in the deepest parts of my consciousness that conjures acquiring this skill, no unique moment of acceptance when I realized I will forever be settling and compromising with language.
Picking out words and concepts from an internal dictionary may as well have come to me from the borders of the ethereal–I know I climbed that ladder, I know I arrived at this present moment with this knowledge in hand. There were witnesses, of course, however this does not compute the same experience as retrieving a personal and visceral recollection.
My memory of writing is different– I have managed to hold onto snippets that predate my learning to write. I do remember practicing letters by following dotted lines. Two, aquatic tanks radiated with heat lamps and purple lights nearby my desk, as monarch cocoons developed and dangled from wire mesh. Together, we were making progress each day.
I can still tap into that feeling of embarrassment when my S was corrected; the first letter of my name, which I wrote backwards for a whole year before someone pointed it out. I had to train myself cognitively to correct this mistake. It had been more natural for me to write it the other way. How I perceived the letter was tied up in other senses, how I heard it, and even how I imagined it to move like a little garter snake through grass. Much like a neurodivergent student I once worked with who saw letters in different colors. When I had given him a pack of markers to show me what he meant, he created layers of rainbows across pages. Prior to this he had been labeled dyslexic and illiterate, and his case managers assumed he never learned to read and write at the developmental age of literacy. What they failed to see was that in order for him to see letters on a page: He saw, had to be written,
“We do not have the time for that,” I was told by those same case managers, insinuating that the student was just belaboring the work we were doing.
Of course, it came down to time. I wanted to celebrate the fact that this student had read and written sentences beautifully and independently, yet his breakthrough did not align with the expectations and schedules of others, so again he was casted outside of the norm.
When our son, age 2, interacts with children who are developmentally further with their language, who are speaking in full sentences, and can articulate that they do not understand our son’s babble, it makes me wonder whether children even as young as two and three have a memory of being nonverbal.
There is no doubt that children are communicating with us long before they learn words and syntax. Feeling comes first, as E.E. Cummings pointedly and poetically declared. Jacques Derrida argued that our Mother language is not our own– that we adopt the language of the Other immediately — that there is a disconnect between what we feel in relationship to the constructed world and our reality, and the words we use and choose to describe our experience.
So, when our son, O, began using the word here about a month ago, as in, I am here, I took a pause from what I was doing to quietly reflect on what he was conveying in the simple language he held. It was not just that he had discovered a new word, it was that the word itself contained an entire embodied experience and narrative within it. And, he had chosen the word intuitively.
My husband and I attempted to interpret what this expression meant to our son, in context to what he was doing in a given moment, and how he used the expression. Sometimes it was in the form of an announcement, I am here! And, sometimes it was the answer he gave us about his whereabouts. Our son was learning how his bodily position related to his environment, and he seemed to be aware of being present in the experience he was having.
The definition of here — in, at, or to this place, position.
There are, in my opinion, few words (in the English language) which capture a complex existential experience in a nutshell the way the word here does. Here rolls with time, a complimentary passenger. Even the word near does not capture the same presence. Near tells us we are close, but not part of. Here, when our son uses it, it has a contented quality to it: I am here, and okay with that. I am not in conflict or distress, you do not need to rescue me.
I agonize over how that change will come, when he calls us up one day to say: I am here, please come get me. I don’t want to be here.
I imagine the Welch word, hiraeth (like the German concept of sehnsucht, the Portuguese saudade, or the Romanian dor) possesses a related longing for hereness, something that becomes more difficult to achieve in age, and in a postmodern era so dictated by time and driven by progress.
For the time being, we will savor our son’s hereness, and how he holds his palms wide open to enhance what he is simultaneously experiencing and trying to say.