Tuesday, April 01, 2008


"Ojalá" by Silvio Rodriguez
(If you like, dear reader, you may click to play as you read.)

Ojalá is one of my favorite words in the Spanish language. Loosely, it means "G-d willing". It comes from the commonly used phrase in Arabic, "Ensha'Allah" (إن شاء الله). In Latin, it is Deo volente. In Portuguese, it is oxalá. There is a phrase in Hebrew, too, which denotes the same thing: B'ezrat Hashem (אם ירצה השם). Farsi and Urdu speakers invoke the phrase in Arabic, too.



Aside from loving the sound of this particular word against the backdrop of my (admittedly limited realm of) Spanish vocabulary, I particularly love that the word has its own, far-reaching history that spans lands and people. How the word came to exist in the modern Spanish lexicon is a story of hope, a singular, three-syllable testament to what it means to survive, to create, to shout one's intentions to the Universe (according to Paulo Coelho), and maybe...just maybe, leave the world better than we found it through our willingness commit to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live the life of our dreams.

The etymology of ojalá is rooted to the tale a single survivor who did great things in his life. He was a son the Ummayad dynasty in Syria, who managed to escape the tragic event of his family's butchering by the rival, Abbasid clan. Orphaned and alone, he traveled all of the way from Damascus, across the deserts of Northern Africa, and ended up making his way to Southern Spain. By the year of 752, he established the grand caliphate of Al-Andalus, which was once situated on the banks of the wide Guadalquivir River, in Córdoba, Spain. Córdoba, a once-glistening, marvelous place to live, produced the likes of many great thinkers of the world. Gifted linguists, mathematicians, scientists, doctors and philosophers all called Córdoba home. Among them was the Jewish thinker, Maimonides. Another is one of Islam's most famous and imminent scholars, Avveroes, who can only be described as the founding father of modern secular thought. Of course, the Roman scholar, Seneca, happened to be born there in Roman times, but I digress. My point, of course, is that ojalá wouldn't be ojalá as it has traveled through time to land on our lips today, evoking that romantic mysticism that hope brings to a life of myriad travails and opportunities. That is to say, if it was not for the bravery of one small person who refused to give up hope in the middle of the desert, or the belief that his life had purpose and value.

"Life without hope is not life at all," says Sri Chinmoy. Without hope...life doesn't get to happen...epic stories of sacrifice and triumph fail to exist. Risks are never taken, cities are never built, civilizations don't get to reach their zenith moments when philosophy and art flourish and considerable progress on the side of humanity gets to be made. Devoid of ojalá, we fail to consider how we, as tiny flecks of this great, swimming cosmos actually matter. In essence, we never get to make real, important, powerful love to the world, much less to each other. We fail to take ourselves seriously, we fail to take our lives seriously, and we look at the world with the sort of nihilism and emptiness that veritably takes us and everything around us back to the Dark Ages. We block the light from our lives. We stop living for the sake of living, loving for the sake of loving, and simply become confined our darkness because we see ourselves as the victims of fate rather the writers and real creators of our own dreams.

In our void, such those terrible, late-night places where the men are aggressive and the women are materialistic and practically made of plastic, we attempt to seek our purpose under florescent bulbs of pulsing blue and red, hoping that the unnatural light will not only mask our empty sadness, but allows us to disguise and forget our aching sense of loss at having misplaced the singular thing of greatest importance to us in this world: our hope, and our sense of purpose based so simplistically, so primordially on a believe that what we do today will reap better returns tomorrow.

Ojalá we will all do what we were put here to do. Ojalá we will live the lives that we will put here to live. Ojalá we will find what we are looking for. And, ojalá, if we are lucky enough to find our way back to this source, we will hold onto it with as much vigor and steadfastness as we did when we went looking for it. Ojalá, when we find it, we won't let it go.



la rebelde said...

what a great post! thanks for sharing it.

Namaste said...

Con mucho carino. Thanks, la rebelde. :)

Alan Ward said...

You got me thinking about "ojalá", to the point of doing a quick search and finding at least three different takes on its origin: "law šá lláh" (Dicc. Real Acad. Esp.), "inch Alá" (www.elcastellano.org) and "wahad allah" (DODONA forum).

But any way you look at it, it implies that tomorrow may - just may - be better than today.

Here's hoping.

Namaste said...

Alan, you're right to look this up. I've always known it to come from the Arabic Ensha'Allah (which is how that dictionary version attempts to show the pronounciation). The word comes from the Arabs (or Moors) that lived in Spain before they (along with the Jews) were ousted by the Edict of 1492. I kind of have an obsession with all things having to do with Medeival Spain, mostly pertaining to Jewish history. So, yeah...another story of optimism and survival. The next time I am in France, we must meet for coffee and chat. :)

Alan Ward said...

Better yet, get to Girona and I'll show you around the old town.

If you like Medieval Spain, you'll have listened to Yasmin Levy and her ladino music, right? Definately a favourite of mine!

Namaste said...

AW--Sounds dreamy. I love ladino music. Will definitely check out Yasmin Levy. You rock!

Leo MacCool said...

this is beautiful and exactly what i needed to read this morning.
there's an irish phrase, buíochas le Dia... it means thanks be to god, or thank god, but the ways i've heard it used, i think it has some ojalá in it. thanking god for things being just what they, for plunging us into this crazy gorgeous life.
(i'm a longterm lurker.)

Namaste said...

thanks, leo. if it isn't already obvious, i love long-time lurkers. ;)