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  • Writer's pictureTricia Webster

Where "No" is "Yes"

I admit, I have a fascination with languages. Maybe it is because my surname is Webster, and my ancestor is a lexicographer, but I have always loved to play with words. The Greek language provides a treasure trove of luscious sounds and meanings, and learning the alphabet, why, that is a deep dive into history, imagination and mystery! All this said, I am no linguist, and only fluent in my mother tongue, English. My brief forays into speaking Greek are embarrassing at best, even with a tolerant coach like Theodosia at my side.

My favorite discovery as I began to paw my way through Greek grammar was a word we learn immediately in any language: Yes. How do you say "yes" in Greek? It is Ναί, pronounced "nay." I found this simplest of words almost impossible to grasp, for it was counter-intuitive to me. In every other language I had practiced, the sound "nay" had another meaning, and a clear one: no! Think about it: non, nada, no, nyet . . . and the list goes on. The word for "no" is όχι, pronounced "o-hee."

In this small word, Ναί, I have found a treasure-trove of wisdom, for I have come to a sort of reverse way of practicing it. I will share it with you.

When I find myself pushing back at something in my life, a slow driver in front of me, a recalcitrant co-worker, or even an unpleasant emotion, the word "no" naturally rises inside me. And when I feel the word "no" in my bones, I simply make the sound that seems to go

with it: Ναί. In doing so, I am turning my no into a yes! It started as a game, but in sounding out this simplest of words, I both give in to my impulse to push back with what to me is a negative sound . . . nay . . . and simultaneously realize that that same moment contains a "yes," if I will let it.

I very much want to translate my no's to yes's, all of them, and this simple word has unlocked a door for me. I am in love with this word. I say it again and again, a sort of doxology, a hymn of gratitude to the universe. I am not saying that I want to cultivate unpleasant experiences, but rather that I want to be alive to the full spectrum of experience, highs and lows, and that means flowing rather than pushing back, saying a Ναί that means yes, in the face of storms and disappointments. Ναί, this, too, this moment in all its imperfection.

Imperfection? Ah, that brings me to another favorite Greek word. It is a word our entire group who journeyed to Crete learned almost immediately and without trying: telia. Perfect. There. We have all learned two words of Greek, and what better combination could we ask for: Yes. Perfect. And so it is.

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