Equivoque, n.: an ambiguous expression
I went to seminary for a while. I got a lot of stories out of it.
This story is about the importance of the ambiguousness of language.
We were in small classes. All of the students there lived together, and if they were in the same year, then their classmates were almost always the same small group. You took the classes that there were in the order that they came. Think Harry Potter, but for Roman Catholic Priests. (Minor aside that’s in parentheses because it belongs to another story: I’m not Roman Catholic, and I was never on the fast track to becoming a priest.)
One of my classmates was named Huy. It’s pronounced “We” with a little extra breath. He was of Cambodian descent, I think.
Early in the first semester, Huy got sick. Really sick. ICU sick. He was unconscious and running a fever for weeks. The danger of permanent brain damage was very real.
These priests-in-training lived together. Huy was their roommate, so every class period we got an update from Huy’s best friend, Robbie. Being in the ICU, Huy had limited visiting hours, and since Robbie was Huy’s best friend, Robbie went to visit. We got our updates about Huy from Robbie.
The best news Robbie brought about Huy, for a long time, was that he had stabilized. We worried every day that Huy wouldn’t make it. He was that sick.
This is not a segue, even if it looks like one: In the early 1900s, the United States funded several eugenics programs. The ones that I know about got just enough funding for one generation to get paired off according to the expert advice of experts and have kids. Then the programs got dissolved.
I don’t know what a lot of these half-formed übermenschen did, but one of them got a doctorate in the history of philosophy, became a nun, and taught the history of philosophy at the seminary where I went.
I don’t know if it was the eugenics that did it, or if it was just her, but whatever made it so this nun is among the top five most intelligent people I have ever met. You know how you can tell. There’s just a particular way that wildly smart people listen to you, a particular way they put things, that tips you off that you’re talking to somebody with their mind turned up further than other people.
It’s a feeling more than a thought.
Sister Prudence is her name. She had turned all the power of her thought to understanding how minds worked.
So, one day, after Huy had been in the ICU for several weeks, Robbie stood to deliver his update. He was a little cheered, because by this time Huy woke up enough to talk a little. But Huy had not yet regained enough consciousness for the doctors to confidently assert that Huy was on the mend, or to make any claims about the extent of the damage that his fever had had on his brain.
During Robbie’s frowny update, suddenly Sister Prudence smiled.
She had him repeat what he had just said. Because Robbie had just said that Huy had been joking around with him.
After that, Sister Prudence didn’t worry about Huy suffering any brain damage. So I didn’t either.
And she was right. Huy came back next semester, much skinnier, but with his mind as functional as ever. He might have been a little more attentive and a little quicker to smile. Aside from that, he seemed just as smart as he ever had. I guess I can hope that I would deal with a near death experience like that.
I’ve thought a lot about that. All that.
This story brought to you by the word Equivoque.
Read more stories in daCunha.
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