It translates as “Lighten up.” Of course, it’s actually a made-up word, from a fictional language, which only exists in the world of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume. I’ve never read Jitterbug Perfume. But my mother had. And for some reason, that pretend word resounded with her. And for some reason, that pretend word came up in our conversations regularly enough for me to remember it.

Erleichda. Lighten up.

The problem with working with other people is… other people.

Or maybe it’s me.

How often I am rescued from the proverbial ledge by something outside of myself whispering in my mother’s voice, “Erleichda.” It’s a word she said a lot. It’s a word she said to me a lot. A lot. In the throes of teenage angst, of college knowledge, of (self)righteous indignation, my quiet, frail mother would tell me to lighten up. It was powerful. Powerful enough to make me angry in the moment. But also powerful enough for me to still hear her saying it years after her death.

Erleichda. Lighten up.

I find this especially fitting as I attempt to navigate this thing called “adulthood”. It just seems that no matter where I work or what I do, there are always other people getting in the way. Oh, to live in a secluded mountain cabin with nothing but my books! But, alas, I have been called to work with people. Selfish, sinful people. Nothing effectively kills a dream like having to get it approved. And so, as I have been called; nay, created to co-exist and co-create with selfish, sinful people, this selfish, sinful person must learn to heed his mother’s advice.

Erleichda. Lighten up.

It’s an odd tack, I’ll grant that. But as I reflect on Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13, I can’t help but hear my mother say that ire-inspiring word. Part of my problem is that I am selfish. The rest of my problem is that other people are selfish, too. Obviously, I can’t fix other people (would that I could!). But, when I look at Abraham’s utter selflessness, I see a model for working on my own self. I see a clear need for the God of Abraham’s promise to give me faith to trust him. I see a story that I would write differently, but wouldn’t be as beautiful. And I see a reminder that God has me where he has me for a reason.

And so when I lament my circumstances, grumble about my duties, and butt heads with my co-laborers, I have this charge: Take heart. Have faith. Erleichda.


P. Alan Major earned the Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary.  He currently studies in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America.