Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Moon and Courage

Two completely different topics this evening:

Taking a walk this evening, and chatting with my (currently in Boston) mother, I became distracted by the moon. Technically last night was a full moon, but I swear it's bigger tonight. Anyway, it doesn't have the harsh, bright white reflection like in the summer, nor the red Armageddon, but a pale yellow. It's a softer reflection tonight, reflecting the softening season of autumn.

Leaves leave the trees and carpet the ground. Lighter clothing and sandals give way to sweaters, khakis, socks and flannel pajamas.

What are you looking forward to this time of year?

I was having a busy day at the end of a busy week today. Often, there's not enough week to finish the work. I get so caught up in how hard it all seems to be, and then...perspective smacks me in the face.

A coworker in another department called me with a question around 4:20 this afternoon. When her name came up on my phone (internal calls show the first initial and last name) I was intrigued. T works on a different floor, and we don't often interact. She is friendly, though, and conscientious. I knew it wouldn't be a social call, or worse, an incredibly dumb question that I would be forced to answer, all the while internally bemoaning the lack of common sense in some members of the staff.
But T does not gossip or shirk. She works hard, and genuinely wants to do her best. I hadn't talked to her in a long time (other than an occasional hello). She asked her question, gave me some background of the problem, and we worked through it. I remember thinking, if every phone call were like this one, I would probably enjoy going to work most of the time.
In the end, we figured it was most likely an error in my department, and not a misunderstanding on her part. I felt genuinely sorry when I apologized for confusing her. T took it well. She was mainly relieved that she understood the situation, and that she could solve it fairly easily.
A mundane phone call about work? Hardly.

You see, T's first language is not English. I would estimate that she is in her late 40s, early 50s. She immigrated to America a number of years ago from Russia. When she was sworn in as an American citizen a couple of years ago, we had a party at work for her. Her English, while accented, is excellent. The only word in the entire conversation that she had trouble pronouncing was someone's name.

I had to concentrate harder during the call than I usually do because 1) her voice is very soothing and I wanted to actually hear what she was saying and 2) I had to think about what I was going to say before I said anything. I didn't completely change the way I talked; I just cut out some of the consonants and enunciated more than I would with a native English speaker. I didn't doubt her ability to understand. I just wanted to be as clear as possible. One thing I did not do was raise my voice or speak (much) slower. If you are speaking with a non-native English speaker and they seem to misunderstand you, do NOT speak louder or slower. Americans on the whole are loud and fast talkers. I'm not saying this is wrong; it's just the way we talk. But it is insulting to speak loudly and/or slowly as if the other person is either deaf or stupid. Okay, I'm done sermonizing...

The point is that T is a completely ordinary person. By her own choices or circumstances (I don't know the story of how she came from Russia to here) she showed exceptional courage.

How do you think you would fare if, in middle life, with family, friends, career, traditions, home and habits firmly established, everything changed?

It did for her. And she faced it.

And now T lives on the far side of the planet from her birthplace, speaking a second language every day (a different alphabet too), and all the while just trying to do her best at her job.

I think my life is pretty easy.


P.S. I haven't forgotten about posting the rest of the trip!

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