My husband is Senegalese. I am not. That means the beginning of our marriage was full of cultural adjustments that were tough but beneficial. Like his incredibly big and open heart. This man will give away our belonging in a minute. He’s also quick to invite people to visit… or live with us. It’s the West African way: teranga, a Wolof word that can be loosely translated as hospitality, but its far more than that. It’s not just about obligatory niceties. It’s about going above and beyond to make a person feel loved, to let them know you truly appreciate their presence. I can’t front; I was annoyed at first. Like, “Who are these people and where is all my stuff?” But my heart softened and I think I’m much kinder and more considerate because of it. Guess I developed a bit of teranga myself.
Another adjustment I had to make was hearing the word “sure” all the time. He used to say it with the cutest little accent, which has since faded. *Insert one lonely tear* Any time I’d ask him a question or to do something, he’d use that word, and I really liked it. Like most people, I was used to “yes” and “ok,” but he said sure for everything. I couldn’t really pinpoint why I liked it so much, but I did! Made me feel good. It took a while for me to realize that embedded in the word sure is the indication that not only is the person willing to meet your request, but they’re actually happy to do. Sure is teranga, hospitality of the highest order.
Think about it. Is it even possible to say sure with malice or annoyance in your voice? It’s the word we use when we’re eager to please, happy to be of service. It lets the person know, “You’re not bothering me. I want to help you.” How good does it feel when someone responds that way?
Business owners (good ones) say sure when customers ask to customize orders. Grandmothers say sure when grandchildren ask for yet another piece of candy. Fathers say sure when weary children ask to be carried. It’s a word of genuine appreciation of presence. That’s why I felt giddy when he said it. It wasn’t the accent; it was the love the word comes wrapped in, the gentle whisper of eager service. Every relationship needs that. To know your life partner wants to serve you, derives joy from serving you, produces a sense of security and respect that only pushes you to want to do the same. And so a cycle of service is created. This is where love lives and grows. The ebb and flow of marriage is still there, but the undercurrent of service always brings it back to balance. So I guess it isn’t really the word that’s magical. It’s the intentions that drive the word, the kindness behind it. So much packed into those four little letters.
It’s not just marriages that can benefit from its use. I try to use it in every relationship of value. I make a point to say sure to my children as frequently as possible. “Say ‘sure,’ mommy,” my son will say. He notices when I don’t. He hasn’t told me as much, but I think he gets the same feeling I got when I first heard his dad say it to me. He’s only five, but he’s astute enough to feel the good in it. I think we all are.
photo credit: Wilson Sanchez