A few years ago, at the Pennsylvania university where I work, I shared an on-campus office with another instructor who was originally from South Korea. One day, as we chatted, she told me that she felt jealous and unloved because her father had given her brother’s fiancée a watch.
“In our culture, the gift of a watch is significant,” she explained.
“Did you tell your father that you wanted a watch?”
“Yes, but he said: you don’t need a watch. You have education!”
I felt sad that her father wouldn’t gift her with education and a watch, but I often try to help people look at the bright side of a situation, so I said, “You don’t wear jewelry.” I based my statement on observation. We’d shared an office for a long time and over the years, I’d noticed that she never wore necklaces, or bracelets. The piercings in her ears were always empty. She was married but didn’t wear a wedding ring. “Why do you even want a watch?”
“You can’t wear jewelry in the United States,” she exclaimed. “You’ll get mugged.”
Yesterday, as I shopped for school supplies, I overheard a frustrated teacher talk loudly as she searched for a type of pencils with soft grips. She explained to the sales associate, “My students don’t hold their current pencils quite right. A soft grip might help.”
Yesterday was my daughter Cara’s 24th birthday. Currently, she’s living in Port-au-prince, Haiti and there are 1550 very long miles of earth and sea separating us. On her birthday, I wasn’t going to see her to celebrate, so I was thinking of her almost every moment of the day. The teacher’s comment made me think of her again and wonder: Had I held my daughterquite right? All those years that I had her close. Did I hold her quite right?
Last week, the first week of spring semester classes, I faced one of those moments when the class dynamic tenses to shift and the direction of that shift–for better, for worse–is up to me, the instructor. I stand, on the spot, in front of the class, and the students wait to see what I’ll do.
The time to act is immediate. The action that will make way for a positive dynamic is not quite clear. So I crawl behind the podium, wrap myself in a fleece blanket, pull out a steaming cup of coffee and the novel I happen to be half-way through and wait for the students to file out. I stay there, protected, until my friends come invite me to do something fun.
Two weeks to the day before the January 6 shooting in the Fort Lauderdale airport, my 23-year-old daughter spent a four-hour-layover in that airport.
Four weeks before that, in the span of ten days, I spent two long layovers there. The TSA agents who herded me through security were grumpy and the wifi was weak and intermittent.
Since the shooting, my thoughts keep returning to our visits to that space. On one layover, I bought coffee with cream, an orange and a banana nut muffin, settled in a secluded chair by a woman’s restroom and tried to grade student papers. Due to the lackluster wifi signal, I couldn’t access the assignment-filled online dropbox. With my work impeded, I felt almost as grumpy as the TSA agents acted.