On an Inspiring Edit

When I started volunteering at the English Second Language (ESL) class, I didn’t know what to expect: I didn’t know the teacher or any of the students. I didn’t know how the class worked, and I certainly don’t know the language of an English teacher. On the first day, seeing the international group gathered in one place for the same goal made me smile … after all, the majority of the world is good … but the uncertainty remained – including how the students would react to me.

Like any first impression, I formed mine by watching and listening to the students. The fact that their personalities occupied a wide spectrum shouldn’t surprise anyone. I don’t recall Lisa, (a young au pair from France) attending on my first day, but I recall that my initial impressions of her included impersonal, quiet, cold, guarded, and a touch of arrogance.

I knew better than trying to crack her personal barrier, so I did what I do with every student – focus on the task at hand while being personable, respectful, and welcoming. We conversed several times because I had worked with the young lady she sits beside – another French au pair. Watching Lisa have a good time at the Christmas white-elephant gift party provided a glimpse into her warmer side. Eventually we worked together, and all went well.

The teacher promotes publishing opportunities for the students – and some participate. This particular volunteer day happened to be the submission deadline, so the teacher asked me to meet with Lisa with the objective of editing and fine-tuning Lisa’s poem and story.

We went to a workspace outside the classroom, then started with her 19-line poem – which (unlike the story) I had read. She immediately apologized for its darkness, but I reassured her that my role was to improve her poem by bringing clarity to future readers – therefore not making personal judgments. Her English is good, and she’s been in the US more than a year – so her strong writing didn’t surprise me.

As we discussed her poem, Lisa responded to my questions from her heart – after all, the poem was about her. By elaborating her intent, she made my task easy. Not only did I learn more about her, she told me that she was happy when I was the one working with her because of the different people she encounters in class, I was the one she trusted the most … which surprised me because we hadn’t worked that much together, and I attend only once a week.

Her comment may have shocked me, but I was unquestionably grateful. In general, my steady temperament keeps my outward emotions in check. Whereas I’m not be overly emotionally, the sensitivity button within my core can be activated – and that would bring emotions to the surface … and yes .. Lisa triggered that button.

I told her that her comments were a gift from her to me, which (in turn), surprised and confused her … but she didn’t know about the emotional swell that was going on within me – my emotions of her journey coupled with the her kind words to me.

Being me, I returned to the task of providing comments and suggestions for her poem … then we moved on to the story: a one-page narrative about her France-to-Cincinnati journey … but unknown to the other, each of our emotions were now on heightened alert.

I kept asking questions and providing suggestions while Lisa continued being sincere, open and vulnerable. Although we were on the story, I was fusing the thoughts from the poem, the story, and her explanations. She was reaching deep within herself in these writings, and her explanations were from her inner abyss – something I never intended to do.

I asked, “Are you selfish?” … to which she quickly and emphatically responded, “Yes!” … and even saying it with a smile. We laughed, and our work continued. As we talked, the laughs and calmness eventually changed to tears in her eyes … and in time, my eyes welled.

Not only around the thought of the unexpected gift, but I was also reflecting on various aspects of my life – my trials – my tribulations – my baggage that I placed on my shoulders – and the baggage that others placed upon me. Now, I was the one explaining some of the feelings she caused me to bring out – and yes – I told Lisa about the gift she gave me – and she smiled.

We finished the edit. Being that both of us had our moments of watery eyes, we engaged in some small talk in order to regain our composure. We returned to the classroom to discover the students were gone – class was over. We informed the teacher of our accomplishments, and Lisa promised the teacher she would do her final edits and resubmit the work later in the afternoon.

While walking to my car, I reflected about the unexpected gift and my emotions. This time, without tears, but with a smile, and warmth in my core. I had a special moment with a person that I initially thought was impersonal, quiet, cold, guarded, and arrogant. For whatever reason, she let her guard down to me. We respectfully connected, and she reinforced my notion that the majority of the world is good. That’s a good day by my standards, but on this day, I got quite the unexpected special moment on a special day – my birthday.

Merci beaucoup, Lisa! … and peace and happiness to you in all your days ahead.

StudentGift

“Eyes Never Fake a Smile” …I left teaching almost 15 years ago, so it’s been awhile since I’ve been surprised in this manner. After class the following week, Lisa gave me this art that she created as a thank you gift, plus a personalized note and a few French cookies. Although the cookies didn’t make it home, this now serves as a reminder of a very good day.

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65 thoughts on “On an Inspiring Edit

  1. This is a lovely story Frank – I’m so glad I have found time to return to you again [I have missed some posts, you may have noticed?] For me this is at the heart of teaching – those personal little one to one moments when we really see and meet each other. Really, I should have said it is at the heart of life. Period. Thank you for spreading the goodness.

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    • Pauline,
      Of course I’ve noticed your absence … but I’m also confident that you’ve been busy. BTW – The next act of Colors: The Musical is posted on the Hear Ye page.

      You know about the unexpected joys that come with teaching. Yes, there are many little moments, but I mean those that touch your core. In this case, it was two adults whose homes are separated by a physical ocean and considerable age.

      Thanks to my favorite Kiwi and being part of the global chain of goodness!

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  2. What a lovely story Frank. Isn’t it interesting how our first impressions color our views and are all to often shattered in unexpected ways. I think I liked most how you gave a glimpse of yourself through your telling of this.

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    • Val,
      This encounter unquestionably shattered the first impression. For me, the Christmas party observations were significant in my eyes.

      Regarding the glimpse into myself, I admit that the original few versions had very little about my emotions. I showed Lisa the draft and her response was simple – a nice story with nothing about your thoughts. Very too the point, so I worked points about my thoughts into the last few paragraphs.

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    • Jim,
      That phrase is part of my belief system, and one that I’ve stated many times on these pages. … and continually to say it. I’m not a heads-in-the-clouds type of person or wear rose-colored glasses, but I continue to belief that, … even with all the negative news throughout the world.

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      • “…the majority of the world is good. ”

        It’s a nice sentiment, but I think generalizations like this, although useful, are tricky. Being a skeptic by nature, I would prefer wording it a little differently; there is some good to be found in most people. And, by the way, Frank, please don’t take this comment as a personal criticism in any way. You obviously have the instincts, patience and soul of a natural teacher.

        I have long noticed that simply memorizing and using people’s first names has a profoundly positive effect on their behavior. However, when President Obama invited John Boehner to golf, it didn’t work. Would it have helped if it were “Barry” and “John”, I wonder?. “Nice drive, Mr. President.” Just not the same thing. It is known that Adolph Hitler could be quite charming in social settings.

        Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Friedrich Nietzsche

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        • Jim,
          There no question that the vast majority of people in the world have some good in them … even many of the rotten scoundrels … but for me, I’m sticking with my mantra because I don’t think it is a generalization (I know … I know .. I don’t have statistics to back it up).

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    • Sylvia,
      Great point about volunteering giving back … and oh my my, can did do so … sometimes simple, sometimes grand, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and more … all which are treasured in a different way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so beautiful story dear Frank, and sure not being forgotten. To be teacher and to be student, they are so beautiful… I am impressed so much and also how beautiful it was your Birthday too… Thank you dear Frank, Love, nia

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Frank, I think connections like this are wonderful to document because they not only show what has been but what can be. In a fast-paced, technology and deadline-driven world I am sure there are opportunities for such encounters not just between teacher and student but between family members, friends, neighbors, etc. that never get fully explored and realized because we don’t take or make the time to invest in each other as human beings with our respective stories. Inspiring piece.

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    • Bruce,
      Good points about how the society’s pace hinders connections. Let’s face it … each of us have been sucked into the rat race warp! However, when we take our time, positive encounters can happen … and they don’t have to be lengthy!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This had ME tearing up, it’s just such a beautiful story.

    You’re right, the vast majority of the world IS good. It’s easy to lose sight of how we are so very much the same, regardless of language or race or religion. Because it seems that the only time these differences are highlighted, they are being screamed at us by talking heads and suits whose leadership is a matter of political expediency.

    I love how you found this amazing place with Lisa. Inside the quiet, but worthy of a good and healthy scream that tells the world we are so much better than the critics would have you believe.

    Love and peace to you

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    • Cayman,
      Thanks for the kind words, support, and belief in the goodness. I like to say that Smiles are the universal language – and Kindness is the universal action – and both smiles and kindness cut through cultural barriers.

      One of the important videos to me is this one. Oh yes … many focus on the places (which is important) … but then watch the faces. Enjoy.

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  6. Pingback: Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 293 – A Frank Angle

  7. You’ve hit upon something I think is key in distinguishing the difference between volunteerism and service to others. You had something to teach, and Lisa was also giving back and in turn teaching you something about yourself. I’m not surprised that this brought tears. It so rare to experience true reciprocity in learning. How wonderful this occurred on your birthday. All the more memorable!

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  8. I’m going through my emails, and I someone missed this post. I’m glad I came back to read it because it is lovely and touching. You have passed along the gift you received to your readers.

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