un·fath·om·a·ble (n-f-m-bl) adj.1. Difficult or impossible to understand; incomprehensible: unfathomable theories.2. Difficult or impossible to measure: the unfathomable depths.
Once upon a time, I taught reading. To college freshmen.
If you find this difficult to believe, I am sorry. After all, aren’t children supposed to learn to read in Kindergarten?
My students had learned to read as children. However, the higher level academic vocabulary required to be successful in college was what they lacked. Perhaps I should say that what I really taught were words. Big words. Important words. College words.
Words like unfathomable.
Every semester, my class would sail along pretty well until Chapter 5 when unfathomable appeared on the word list. Then, like a fully loaded freight train on bad track, the tempo of the lesson would start to swerve and wobble and then grind to a halt. All because of that darn word.
We would look it up the definitions in the dictionary.
We would divide it into syllables, paying close attention to where the accented syllable was.
We would spend an inordinate amount talking about why the upside down e was called a schwa.
We would review for the hundredth time the difference between adjectives and adverbs.
And then I’d ask my students to try using it in a sentence. They would look around the room, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Refusing to make eye contact with me. If actual word bubbles with question marks appeared above real human heads in college classrooms, there would have been at least twenty per class.
And so…sighing loudly..I would use the word in sentences. Every semester. Sentences like:
“It is unfathomable to me that, after two weeks of studying this word, that I am still the only person in class who can use it in a sentence.”
“I find it unfathomable that three of you walked to class from the dorm in basketball shorts with a 30 below zero windchill this morning.”
“Why, oh why do you find the word unfathomable so very…well…unfathomable????”
It took a long time for me to realize that trying to define something that describes something as indescribable and beyond comprehension was pretty impossible, even for an English teacher.
Until tonight. Tonight I could do it.
Because tonight, I am thinking about other students who lived in a place far from the lakes and woods where I do who lost their lives on what began as an ordinary day. Children sent off to learn little words so that they could grow up and go on to learn bigger ones by parents who blinked, trusted the universe a little too much, and had their hearts yanked out by noon. Such unfathomable pain to bear.
I am thinking about the disturbed young man who killed twenty babies of other women and the mother who gave birth to him. I’m thinking about how truly broken a soul, or mind, or person has to be in order to do such an unfathomable thing in such an unfathomable way.
I am thinking of the unfathomable heroism shown by teachers and staff who gathered children into darkened classrooms and closets and cubbies during the ordeal. Men and women who did everything they could to protect their students knowing that it could cost them their own lives.
Tonight, a lot of people on TV are saying that there are “no words” to describe today’s events.
Yes. There is.
But only one.