A lawn sign appeared a few years ago, becoming popular across the internet: Chinese characters with the quaint English rendering — “Do Not Disturb: Tiny Grass is Dreaming.”
I really don’t know if the translation is accurate. I read an article that said that “tiny grass is resting” may be more like it, which makes sense. But from another article, I learned that the idea of dreaming grass is in fact a prevalent meme in parts of China. A language scholar wrote that it looked to her like the phrase had been started in English, translated into Chinese, and then back again through confusing homophones and idioms, which made the end result a fairly odd linguistic mashup.
I’m still charmed by the idea, whether or not it’s a good translation. Evidently, others are, too — you can order the sign online for your own yard, and the phrase has inspired youtube videos, poetry, and a jazz album with the title.
I really like it when it seems like something new is found in translation.
Of course, sometimes we might lose something — some original spirit or intention — when attempting to communicate. I don’t mean just across languages, but any time an idea or information travels from anyone’s mouth to another’s ears. However, it’s also possible to gain something, to discover something.
Maybe what we can find in this in-between place — between one language and another, between one form of expression and another, between what one person attempts to convey and what someone else ends up hearing — is a deeper truth that comes closer to including both of us, or all of us.
This lawn sign and its peculiar phrase is drawing me in from a bunch of different angles this week… First, I think there’s something appealingly gentle about “Do Not Disturb” as an alternative to “Keep Off the Grass.” I mean, I guess you can say do not disturb in a cross way (you can make anything crotchety if you really want to), but generally it sounds more like a reasonable request and less like misanthropic territorial yelling.
Second, I love the suggestion that germinating is something like dreaming. How lovely to think of this natural growth, from tiny seed to maturity, as a dream. Merrily merrily merrily merrily… right? Whether you call it resting, or developing, or becoming — whatever word you might use for the process of Life growing Itself as every individual thing — this is something in which we’re all engaged all the time. We’re doing it right now, in fact. I wonder what might be available if I let this happen like a pleasant dream, nourishing and enlivening, instead of so much striving and struggling and working to force its outcome.
Third, I’m just grooving with the idea of tiny grass. It sounds sweet and simple. Manageable. Cute. Sure, it’s probably also part of some enormous expanse of lawn, a big landscaping job, or a critical element in a citywide renewal initiative. All that grass could be symbolic of every important thing we long for both in our private back yards and in our shared community spaces — safety, connection, barefoot summers, beauty, comfort. It may feel like an example of and evidence for the success and vitality of Life Itself. It’s part of something huge and complicated and unwieldy, something that is not at all manageable and probably not very cute.
But when we give ourselves a second to focus in on this particular blade — our piece, this moment, this life, our self — it’s relatively tiny. And it’s okay that’s it’s tiny. It’s supposed to be tiny.
So often, I’m drawn to big ideas, grand gestures, world-transforming creative declarations. I like to think of myself as someone who plays full-out, giving it everything he’s got. Sometimes this can be exciting and effective. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, except that it can also be freakin’ exhausting. And it can trample the tiny grass that needs some peace and quiet in which to imagine its own becoming.
What wishes and possibilities might we find in the peace and quiet?
Sister and brother grasslings, I know we’re a part of something large, infinite even, and that each of us is integral to the expansive evolution of the entire universe. I also know that our individual roles in the great unfolding of it all can be as simple as being and becoming what we already are. Shhh…. sweet dreams.
©2020 Drew Groves