You might be interested to know that my current school is located in a four story building with no elevator. To make matters more interesting, all of the hallways are open air. To make matters even more interesting, the main staircase is a wide spiral to infinity. I trip often. Bless.
This matters because a few weeks ago, one of my Thai coworkers was struggling up the grand death spiral with some bags. There is no way to climb these stairs without some measure of struggle, but I noticed that her right foot and ankle were also in a cast. She’s taking it pretty slowly and everyone is just going around her. No shade. We all work for a living. But I, being the GRITS that I am, of course stopped to help. She doesn’t speak much English, so I basically had to force her bags away and offer her my arm. I dropped her things off on her desk and proceeded along my merry way.
Later in the week, the same thing happened. She’s climbing with bags, teetering precariously, and the world of other humans is passing her by. This time, she more readily surrenders the bags and offers me an even brighter smile. I smile back, of course, but I’m already thinking about the work on my own desk before I place her bags on hers.
I don’t make much out of doing good deeds. That’s not what this post is about. If I’m honest with myself, doing nice things is a pleasant distraction from work that I enjoy far less, especially the clerical work involved in moving and living abroad. Around the same time I was being Little Miss Bag Toter 2017, I was also trying to figure out how to wire money to the US. It was getting to be a stressful situation because even though I had been in the country for a full month, I still did not have a work permit, which meant that I could not open a bank account. My attempt to use the Western Union was thwarted by an early closing time. I was starting to get a bit desperate and asked one of my Thai colleagues who speaks pretty good English where I might find a Western Union close enough to work so that I could actually use it. Instead of answering my question, she insisted that Fang would take me to the bank and help me transfer money. I did not know who this Fang person was or how I could transfer money without an account, so imagine my surprise when I turned around to see…the girl in the cast.
She took me to the bank. Spoke to the manager. Helped me fill out the forms. My money arrived in the US the same day.
Here is the important bit. Now that we were surely friends, she was using all of her English to chat with me on the walk back to the office. She struggled to explain that her four year old is learning English and that she feels sad that she soon won’t be able to help her anymore. She asked me if I would teach her English. When I said yes, she grabbed me and hugged me so tightly and repeatedly that I thought I had agreed to give her money. No seriously. I wasn’t sure what I had agreed to.
It wasn’t until more than a week later that one of my Thai colleagues who speaks English fluently explained to me that when I helped Fang carry her bags, she went to dinner and told everyone about it. She wanted to express to me how much she appreciated the help I gave because no one else even offered, but she didn’t know any of those words in English. She also said what made her gather up the courage to ask me to teach her English was the fact that I tried to understand her on the walk back from the bank.
And Ya’ll. That really got me to thinking about how we make all of these excuses not to listen to other people, even the people we say we love. I started considering all the misunderstandings we have with those around us who speak the same language. And I started wondering, are we truly listening? Are we trying to hear?
We all want to be heard. We all need to be heard. But I’m gathering that home is where you drop your guard enough to hear, to actually strain at the chance of allowing someone else’s perspective to influence and change your own. And I realized that we will all have countless opportunities to pass people by on the stairway of life. And we will have our reasons. Some legitimate: Hurry. Prior obligations. Blindness. Some illegitimate: Hurry. Prior obligations. Blindness. But it’s only when we learn to slow down long enough to hear someone that you can really begin to understand.
I thought that Fang needed help carrying some bags. And, in the moment, she did. But after I did what I came to do, I went about by business. Just beneath the surface of our interaction was her very real desire to do the best she can for her daughter. I needed to do more than a good deeds driveby to understand something like that.
So here’s to hearing and to hearing well. And here’s to hearing at home.