While reading Denial by Beverley McLachlin this week, I came upon the word nonplussed.
Nonplussed is one of those words that people don’t use in conversation. We are left to conclude its meaning from where we find it in writing. Up to this week, every time I’d read the word it had meant unperturbed.
In her book, McLachlin used the word in a way that did not mean unperturbed. Quite the opposite. Her character was taken aback and surprised by his circumstance.
Seeing this, I was taken aback and surprised. Nonplussed, as it turns out.
I said to my husband, “What do you think nonplussed means?”
“Surprised,” he said.
Huh. I touched my finger to the word in my e-book and selected “Look up.” The answer came:
I am not nonplussed (unperturbed) by these definitions. I am quite nonplussed (surprised).
What to do with a word with two opposite meanings?
May our politicians never make use of the term. Misunderstanding and world conflict could result.
He was raised with love by a family with Irish roots. My entire life I associated strongly with that Irish heritage. I sang and danced during the loud and proud St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Canada’s Ottawa Valley.
Then, this past Christmas, my son gave me a DNA test as a gift. The results showed my Irish DNA at the BOTTOM of the list of the ethnicity estimate, at 2 %.
2 %. I couldn’t have been more astonished.
A second surprise lay in store. The largest percentage of my DNA indicated Scottish and Scandinavian heritage. I am three-quarters Scottish and . . . Viking, I guess?
In September, as fate would have it, my son headed off to Edinburgh, Scotland to do his Master of Physiotherapy. We won’t travel there just yet (you know . . . COVID), but we’re making plans for future trips. I began to read Love of Country: A Journey through the Hebridesby Madeline Bunting.
I read about the land of my DNA. I read of crofts (small rented farms with a right of pasturage held in common with others), and machair (fertile plains), and lochan (small inland lakes). I learned the roots of the word galore (see above) and mused about how wonderful it is that galore really means that you have everything you need for the given moment.
All of this got me to thinking about where I’m from (Scotland/Scandinavia) as opposed to where I am really from (the Ottawa Valley, Canada).
This past week, the book Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Méndez passed through my hands at the library where I work. It is the story of a child who must answer where she is from—no, where she is really from—to the point where it hurts.
When people ask someone like me where I’m really from, it means Where were you raised?What is the place that formed you?
For racialized people, the situation is reversed. For them, where are you really from means What foreign country did your people come from?
That makes it a backwards question, because for any of us, the place where we are really from is the place that has formed us.
My DNA says that the foreign countries my people came from were Scotland and the Scandinavian countries, but I’m really from a farm in the Ottawa Valley. I’m really from a place where we dug in the dirt to grow our food, where we wore hand-me-downs, and where neighbours and families helped each other out. On any given day we had everything we needed. Sufficiently, enough.
In other words, we had plenty galore. What a fine place to be from. Really.
For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.
No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.
Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.
This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.
In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.
Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.
Iask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?
May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?
“Into God’s temple of eternity | Drive a nail of gold.
—fromIn Search of a Soul by Raymond Moriyama
We are spending some time at our cottage, where renovations never cease. It gives me opportunity to re-visit one of my past posts.
I sit on the sofa and contemplate a box of nails.
“Common” nails, the box tells me. Ordinaires. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Those common nails hold together the kitchen in which I sit—the heart of our cottage home—but only because they are working together. One nail alone can only endure stress for a brief time before it snaps from the strain.
Those common nails don’t judge themselves against longer ones, or thinner ones, or younger ones. They know they are the perfect size, material, and shape for their purpose.
The nails know and accept without question that they need help from an outside source: the hand that wields the hammer. Nails on their own must wait.
Once work is underway, the hammer strikes the nail. It doesn’t feel good. It hurts! Fulfilling purpose is not a pain-free, comfortable experience.
If I am a common nail, I have a purpose for which I am the perfect size, material, and shape.
The hand that wields the hammer is with me. I’d better call up some friends.