Friday, November 21, 2008

sometimes all you need is a word.



Snapped this quieted carousel on my cellphone in the cold of Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan at the end of a long day, piled on top of two even longer days, feeling unsettled and misread and far from home. Far from myself.

I suspect wearing a suit coat for three days in a row contributed to the uptight feeling; showing up for my last meeting and realizing I didn't need to be wearing one almost certainly tipped it over the edge.

All my meetings went well and the job got done, but still.

I missed home -- where people get my jokes and tell me when I'm full of shit. I missed being seen in the larger landscape of who I really am.

And then George drove up to the curb.

George drives a limo and he received the random assignment to drive me to LaGuardia. Once I got settled and double checked my itinerary (to be sure that LaGuardia was the airport we wanted), I asked him how business was and whether he was seeing fewer airport trips since the economy started crumbling.

Sure, no, he said: business is down. But it's not the thing I worry about -- I have other concerns I worry about, and then, without breaking his stride, he asked if he could ask my opinion as a woman.

Uh oh, I thought.

He was looking for a word to describe a woman who is like a gentleman, he said, but not a man. A true gentleman. But a woman.

I told him that lady was often used as the feminine to gentleman, as in "ladies & gentlemen", but I asked if he was looking for something similar to the Spanish Senora or the French Madame -- if he was looking for a word that conveyed respect.

Because if he was looking for respect, "hey lady" wasn't going to do it.

Yes, YES -- respect, he said, leaning hard on the word and gesturing with a ballpoint pen as he spoke.

He was writing a letter to his professor -- one that was direct and honest "with no romance" -- but that explained why what she had done for him meant so much.

Because there are a lot of ways someone can help you, he said, but sometimes all you need is a word.

He spoke quietly, with an intensity that broke my heart.

We wrestled with his letter, and while I could find him no equivalent to Senora in the English language, I suggested that if he wrote the letter with the same directness and honesty with which he told me his story then I suspected it would be well received.

It will be, he said, it will be, betraying no ego outside a confidence that was deeply invested in the good heart of his subject.

We spoke a while longer about people and conversation and the power of human exchange. How ideas come alive when people talk to one another, honestly, authentically. How so much is discovered, unexpected, "unknown even to your own self."

"Do you believe in the idea about right people appear at the right time?" he asked me. I told him I did, and told him that it sounded like his teacher had done that for him.

He said yes, "but I was thinking of you". He had told no one about this letter, that I was the first, even though he'd been working on his letter for weeks and had been looking for someone he could ask. Someone who would understand.

Why me? I asked him.

I can read people, he said. I read you.

9 comments:

Kari said...

That gave me goosebumps. Amazing world sometimes.

Lummox said...

you are that

patrick said...

As I was reading this, I thought how lucky he was that you were the one he decided to ask!

Anonymous said...

you brought a tear to my eye.

-pablo agua.

Elefanterosado said...

My Spanish teacher always calls me "Doña Maria," which carries a deep and abiding respect. But you're right: we don't have an equivalent in English. Desgraciadamente.

bobcat rock said...

such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. It's those moments - shared with 'strangers', when paths cross and we remind each other what life is really all about - that can turn you & your day around, isn't it? I'm happy and thankful for you both; that you got to share that ride and that time together. And i'm sure, just as you blogged and shared your experience, he is sharing his. Heartwarming stuff.

Bonita said...

This is a breathtakingly beautiful snapshot of the alchemy that exists between people when they are at their most authentic. This the reason that we are all here on earth...to give and receive from each other in th moment...in the word...in gratitude for the beauty we can experience when we are real with one another.

anniemcq said...

Big ol' lump in my throat now.

And remembering a Thanksgiving almost ten years ago, when I met a Russian woman on my hike in Runyon Canyon. She was in her 70's but full of vigor, and she stopped me to ask if I might help her write a speech. I'd never seen her before that day, but she wanted to write a speech to thank her friends who helped her when she moved to Los Angeles from Russia. She wanted it to convey how appreciative she was for his help and for being a new family to her. We walked and talked that day, and when it was done, she hugged me like family.

In the course of our talk, I learned her name (Yelena), and saw her several times after, always hiking in the canyon. After we moved from that neighborhood I didn't see her again, but I still am grateful for her reminding me to be thankful, and to let those I love know how grateful I am for their presence in my life.

So thankful for you, friend. Your stories and your heart and your goodness.

p2wy said...

beautiful story... gave me goosebumps as well.

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