Friday, November 21, 2008
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.
Posted by suttonhoo at 7:38 AM