Saturday, 28 September 2013
In Hungarian there are separate words for older versus younger brother or sister and only a word for sibling and the - from a Hungarian perspective - generic “brother” and “sister” are rarely used. There are also words for up to the eleventh ancestors and tenth descendants and such granularity is something I haven’t seen in other languages. A further quirk of Hungarian is the application of “aunt” and “uncle” to senior acquaintances who are not blood-relations and the use of “my son” with reference to any person for whom one cares - I was always struck by the tenderness with which my grandad lovingly addressed my grandmother in this way. And finally, there is the generous use of diminutive suffixes, sometimes of multiple levels, expressing affection - e.g., “apa” - father, “apuka” - daddy, “apucika” - little daddy. All of these features of granularity and attribution of universality to intra-familiar relationships in the Hungarian language, I believe, underline their importance already by virtue of how one speaks about them. Universal brotherhood and specificity of relating to an individual person are hardwired and latent even before one opens one’s mouth or formulates a thought.
As a result of the above, a single word - “bátyóka” (“little older brother”) - suffices to express great love and affection, and my uncle, who completed his earthly pilgrimage yesterday evening, was universally known not only as “bátyóka” but as “Bátyóka.” Being the older brother who is considered with great love and warmth has become his name and all of us in our large, extended family only ever referred to him as such.
Bátyóka has lived a heroic life during tumultuous periods of the 20th century and has been the beloved elder brother not only to his biological family, but also to the countless people he served, guided and protected as a priest during decades of absurd oppression by a criminal Communist regime. His parishes always seemed to me, as a child, like oases and even at a young age it was crystal-clear to me that the way his parishioners related to him was by a bond of love rather than obedience or respect.
Meeting Bátyóka, you’d never have guessed that he had a doctorate in theology from Rome, as it would be his kindness and genuine interest for you as an individual that would strike you immediately. If the conversation turned to topics of faith or reason, his sharp intellect and vast knowledge would almost surprise you, as it wouldn’t have been him to steer the conversation in their direction.
Others could tell you much more about Bátyóka’s life, but all you’d learn from it are the details of the following fact: he was a follower of Jesus par excellence. This I knew from a very early age and continued experiencing on every occasion of meeting him since.
As I write this, on the day after Bátyóka completed his earthly life, I have tears in my eyes. They are not tears for Bátyóka though, who is now united even more closely with Jesus, the love of his life, and more than ever alive and closer to me as a member of Jesus’ Mystical Body, but for me, as I will miss seeing him, laughing at his incessant stream of jokes, being struck by the wisdom he so liberally shared with all and having him around as my “little older brother.”