Last week and, again, today, I felt as if I were transported somewhere exotic as I finished up my morning laps. Conversations in Cantonese revved up just as I was winding down.
I had heard a lot of loud talk in another tongue as I was showering, but a later summer schedule makes me personally privy to the two Chinese couples catching up as they warm up. I love the international flavor the pool unexpectedly brings.
Thursday, I had an extended conversation with Lisa as we shared a lane. She’s been in this country over 30 years. Her daughters, all in medical fields, live together in Columbus, where they graduated from Ohio State. I think she said one is a family practitioner, one a nurse and the other a physical therapist. She beamed as she spoke of Holly, Joyce and Helen with VERY American names. Lisa confided that she had trouble finding a job when she first arrived. Sewing was all she qualified for. Eventually she went to work in a local Chinese restaurant and advised her daughters to get an education so they were employable.
I told her about my Russian friend, Svetlana, an economist (and fellow swimmer) who lost her job during Perestroika, immigrated and could only dip ice cream at Graeter’s. Both of these women are intelligent, yet I believe Americans can’t often hear past the accent to understand they are speaking fine English. All it takes is a little patient listening.
I was annoyed several years ago when some white Caucasian at the gym suggested “they, these Asians, don’t know our swimming etiquette here.” Have you ever even smiled or greeted them, I wondered
Lisa mentioned another woman swimming in the outside lane was her neighbor, though they’ve never conversed at the gym. It’s no wonder the conversations between the two Asian couples seem so lively. No one else talks to them.
I don’t even really remember how Lisa and I got acquainted. I think I told her I’d be happy to share a lane with her once and we gradually began to greet one another. She welcomes me like an old friend. I’m a little more shy with her husband, although, when Lisa was absent several weeks, I enquired about her. His placid face lit up as he excitedly said she was in Hong Know visiting family.
I believe diversity is the spice of life and I embrace it in my lily white suburb. A year or so ago, I saw what appeared to be an Indian family walking down the street. I wanted to chase them down, welcome them and ask where they lived. I was afraid I’d scare them off.
I learned the diversity lesson well as part of Neighbor To Neighbor, a local group that formed in response to the 2001 Cincinnati riots. I was distraught and sitting home with an infant when the Enquirer encouraged residents to organize and host a conversation. That, I can do, I thought. Little did I know 12 years later the group would still be meeting. I bowed out after a few years, but treasure the lessons and friendships that grew there. Frank taught me that racism can be transformed one heart at a time. He’s so very right. Any hatred can be conquered that way. Curly insisted that bigotry is rampant, just undergound these days. They and others patiently and, sometimes, angrily shared their stories. As they did, I began to see my complicity and legacy of silent, white privilege. The experience really opened my heart. I believe it planted the stirring for Artsy Fartsy, the arts exploration I host for kids in Milford’s only family subsidized housing. Last night someone mentioned I could make money if offered it to families who could and would pay dearly for these sessions. Not interested … it’s just not where my heart calls me.
I prefer to hang at the edges, meeting folks marginalized and welcoming them into a kinder, gentler world as well as my heart. I think that’s would Jesus would do.
• How do I greet people some consider foreigners?
• What makes someone a stranger and another a friend or neighbor?
• When have I been the Good Samaritan?
• How does my heart call me to the marginalized?
• How do I respond to Jesus, the Inner Teacher?
setting my own
needs a space
not an easy
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