My sister-in-law left me a voice message in What’s App. “Would you mind reading subtitles in English? Reading them while we watched a-” She paused and yelled at my brother, “what’s the name for ---?” Her voice turned back to me, “A play.”
I smiled. I knew the word for play. It was a ridiculous one to learn, I had judged. However, I shouldn’t since the words seemed to appear when I needed them most, a reverse kind of subtitle. Just a few weeks ago, my niece had directed my attention to the notification on the app by mentioning the ‘pa’amon’, or ‘bell.’
I returned her message saying that I would be more than happy to read, and that I knew the word for ‘play’. It was hatzaga. However, I was currently struggling to remember the word for ‘brush’. Vocabulary is weird.
We spent a couple of days negotiating the available options. Finally she sent the confirmation, “You have a date!”
I was happy, but then I wasn’t. I considered the question. “Do you mind reading subtitles?” I read subtitles for an opera years ago when I was in Buenos Aires. I never hesitated seeing foreign films. Currently, many international selections could be found in my Netflix list with subtitles in English selected.
Did I mind? No.
But why would I mind? Why might I mind? Perhaps which reason was the reason. Hebrew was a language I was making a great effort to learn. I had invested a sizeable amount of time and not a small financial amount to do so. At times, the cost was my own self-esteem as I continued to step forward despite my brain feeling no more fluent than mud. Each time I visited my family, it was those language skills that I allowed to define not only my literal understanding of what was going on, but also my value or place. Too often that value was lower than I wanted. More awkward and out of depth than preferred. What Doda didn’t know how to say easily could mean what Doda just didn’t know which was a short trip to who Doda was, which was lacking.
We need subtitles. We all need them, probably all the time. At work. With friends. A consistent voice that didn’t just repeat exactly what was said, but added just the right inflection or phrase, to increase a common understanding across divides. Subtitles. Did I mind the existence of subtitles? No. Did I mind relying on them exclusively? Yes.
The play, 'Moshiko the Great's Son' was a great night. Between my new dress, the lit streets of Tel Aviv and the fancy drinks and pizza we ate before the show, no words were needed. The placement of the subtitles to each side of the stage was awkward. I was grateful that I didn't need them to understand everything. In the car on the way home, my brother and sister-in-law discussed the cultural connections that made the play the most enjoyable. While they took the time to explain it to me, I smiled to myself that I didn't need their subtitles to understand.
"Do you mind reading subtitles?" Ultimately, it was nice my sister-in-law asked. Shouldn’t we all ask that question. First, do you need subtitles? Second, do you mind reading them? Shouldn’t we all be this concerned with someone else’s comfort. Someone else’s needs to participate. To feel like someone who belongs in a space. Sometimes it takes help to fit in.