My friend showed me a concordance. His was on his phone and he showed me how he could tap words from the Bible and learn all about the origin word. He showed me how the same word in one specific passage had two different meanings, which significantly affected the meaning of the passage, but I’ll leave that story for him to tell. I immediately wondered if The Stranger had a concordance. The Stranger by Albert Camus is my favorite novel. Originally written in French, I’ve thought about learning French just to read that novel in the original language. (That thought is as far as that plan progressed.) What nuances are lost in translation?
In the book, the main character kills an Arab. If you don’t know killing an Arab in that time and place wasn’t considered as bad a crime as killing any other person, you’ll probably get that as the story progresses, but if you fail to let go of your sense that it is as bad, you won’t fully get the rest of the book.
Back when Obama was either trying to get the Affordable Care Act passed or shortly after when the Republicans were on their mission to hurry up and repeal it before Americans figured out how desperately we needed it (I’ve spent my adult life with a “pre-existing condition” due to a surgery I had when a minor, so I know firsthand how desperately America needed The Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies screening out sick people to boost profits is as repugnant as it should sound and never should have been allowed. All this becomes important for anyone who keeps reading.), an old man I worked with approached me wanting to celebrate the voting in of one of the obstructionist Republicans. He figured out quickly I was a proponent, and an informed one, of Obamacare. (Although at that time I was still trying to keep people calling it The Affordable Care Act.) At one point, appealing to the fear of socialized medicine he assumed everyone shared, he said, “Did you know in Canada, if you’re over the age of fifty and you have cancer, they just send you home to die?”
I said, “That’s an outright lie.” And it was. The discussion didn’t get ugly but it got heated. I don’t think we ever spoke again, though we’d never really spoken before then either. We both made a point of nodding to each other nearly every time we crossed paths, after that. Then he quit a few months later.
Here’s where a concordance might have come in handy. I could have tapped a speech bubble of what he’s said and discovered that wasn’t a lie, not from him. I could have dug into that man’s history and probably found someone who’d worked his whole life within a system. And now that he’d played by the rules, he had his “Cadillac Coverage” and felt he was at an age where any day now he might need it. So he was scared, which made him highly susceptible to manipulation. And there were people telling him lies he believed. A concordance would have told me all that.
During my friend and I’s talk, we concluded that there weren’t going to be many books where making a concordance for them would be practical. There will probably never be a concordance for The Stranger. There will certainly never be one for life, but like The Stranger, which if you open up and read without that assumption that the Arab was interchangeable with any other person, will show you what you need to know to get the book, if we open up in life and in our relationships with people, if we simply keep in mind they’re coming from some other set of experiences, if we listen, they’ll show us what we need to know to connect with them. It only occurs to me while writing this years later that man was married and that his wife might have had cancer. Knowing that wouldn’t have stopped me from defending Obamacare in that discussion but it would have changed my approach.
Whoever reads this blog must worry that I agonize over past events to an unhealthy extent. I would disagree. I consider it an occupational hazard or maybe reward. Usually these are moments I haven’t thought about in a while and writing gives me a chance to pull them back out and look at them from another perspective. Then ideally I can apply what I learned in future interactions with people, which is probably as close as I could get to utilizing a concordance in my life.