On the train, a few seats in front of me, I hear a girl ask her father, ‘How much do you love me, Daddy?’ I didn’t hear his reply, but I couldn’t help but break into a smile. I then heard her ask, ‘Mummy, how far do you love me?’, and the reply to that question was hidden from me too, but, again, it was impossible not to smile. As the train stopped, I stared at the window, where the view to the nighttime landscape, pin-pricked with tiny orange squares, had been hijacked by the reflected noise and glare from inside the carriage. In the abducted form of this glass pane turned mirror, I watched the child and her parents get up from their seats and walk towards the exit. ‘I love you a million, Daddy, and I love you a million, too, Mummy.’
My smiles were aimed not so much at the child, but at the honesty of such simple questioning, and for the answers she supplied which quantified that same simple logic. For the less one knows of language or the more limited an experience one has with it, the greater the chance that they will speak with a certain kind of precision and efficacy, however naive or whimsical those words might be. As adults, we become obsessed with crafting our speech. In split-second reactions to each word we voice, we can be refining or rerouting the words intended to follow. When I become aware of this deliberate craft in my own speech, four or five excruciatingly manicured words ahead of myself, a very basic kind of shame creeps in and I can no longer continue to give sound to the thoughts in my head.
For the child who opens their mouth and exclaims, ‘I feel like tears’, I would suggest that that child has described far more powerfully and touched far more deeply the listening adult than the one who correctly says, ‘I feel like crying.’ Grammar gives words their order, whether spoken or written, but it can also take away their potency and it can occasionally allow description to unravel intent.
As I continued on my journey, I realised such rules and constraints could dim the beauty of a child communicating their love to a parent, or keep, for that second or two longer, the cradling arm of an adult from embracing the child whose need for tears must first travel a grammatical loop past ‘crying’.