O Tannenbaum/Oh Tannin bowm

It was a family tradition to sing O Tannenbaum in the original German despite the fact that no one except for some of the elders could speak German any longer. The great-grandparents had emigrated from Germany bearing a St. Nikolaus outfit. This was Christmas eve: a Santa Suit and O Tannenbaum.

So, O Tannenbaum was written out in English phonetics instead of German. Something akin to “Oh Tannin bowm Oh Tannin bowm, Vee Groon zint die-nay bleh-ter.” It was literally spelled out so we could sing along, maybe not understand it, but we could be a part of it. It was such a simple way to keep a tradition going without requiring everyone to speak German. Spelling it out so we could sing along. Singing along meant that for one of those wonderful brief moments—four generations were working together. For one of those brief moments—we were literally speaking the same language—whether we could understand it or not. Singing together you could feel a connection. To each other and to a past that you were connected to by birthright, or love, or marriage. All because it was broken down in readable bite size pieces. All because we were willing to forgo complexity for a moment to allow for an experience.

I have often noticed that the world of healing is written in complicated language. Part of that is the history of translation of psychology. Freud, whatever you think about him or his theories, was actually a plain-spoken guy. He used everyday words to describe the psychological world he was mapping. Words that every German would have known—and been able to understand its new use.  But when it came time for the translation into English, the translators decided that the field of Psychology belonged to the elite, and they translated it into language that they created to be complex, that wasn’t “everyday” language to guarantee that that the territory would belong to them. From the beginning of its creation, psychology, at least in English, has been burdened by complicated language.

Don’t get me wrong. Healing long term trauma is complex, and I don’t want to confuse simplifying the language –or creating ramps or steps into the healing process for the idea that you can make this a three-easy-step process. But so often in the work of healing the most powerful moments are small, bite-sized moments. They are single steps: they are single steps repeated over and over. And I encourage anyone who has made it through the healing process or those of you who work in the field to think about ways to describe aspects of it so that people just starting out could ‘sing along.’ I encourage people to talk about their experience of healing in language that others can understand, and I encourage healers of all sorts to also use language that clients can understand.

Sometimes you need the experience of connection first. Sometimes you need to be able to sing the phonetics first, without completely understanding the words. Sometimes it’s okay to just sing along so that you can feel your place in the long arc of the history of something. The language can come later. The rules of grammar can come later. Start wherever you need to, in order to sing along.

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014