21 May 2012

I am...I said

A tale of two cards:

"There is no one alive who is you-er than you."

and

"Dreams that are dared, a passion for living...
And a smile that says 'You aint' seen nothin' yet.'"

These were given to me by women who have known me for decades, who have tried to reinvent me into something more comfortable for decades. 

And they have failed in their quest for decades because decades ago I made a decision. That decision was that I would be as good as I could, I would be as kind as I could, I would keep to the moral high ground as best I could, but I wasn't going to change for anyone.

In a sense, I read them as rueful capitulation. With amusement. 

Oh, I take advice and constructive criticism, absorbing what is just and what is right. I am not static, and while bull-headed perhaps, I am not (usually) unreasonable. 

But this, this is what I am.

*****

This morning I had to place a call to Paris. I didn't want to. But it was necessary. A very unexpected necessity.

I am fluent in a couple of  languages. French is not one of them. My spoken French is cringe-inducing, though I read it reasonably well.

Through long experience and much travel, I've learned that it is generally appreciated if one at least attempts a respectful query in the local language before requesting assistance in English. And so, I know the basics in a number of languages, and will use them without shame. And while I know the basics in French, I don't ever want to actually speak French if I don't have to.

This morning I listened to the phone ring out thousands of miles away and prepared to embarrass myself. I hoped that I might reach an automated line which would give me the option for an English speaker up front while I ran through the phrases I'd need if I didn't.

A woman answered the phone. She spoke rapid-fire French in a light and lilting tone, her very voice bringing with it the elegance of the language and a sense of youth and beauty and Paris in the spring.

In my head, I loudly pronounced an Anglo-Saxonism, took a deep breath, and very clearly made a request. In French. And she responded. In French.

Flinging myself into the breach, I said,  "Je m'appelle..."

Because that is who I am.

Go listen to some good music: "I Am...I Said" from the album Hot August Night by Neil Diamond. Prior to deploying to southeast Asia near the end of the Vietnam War, my much-older cousin gave me a bunch of his cassette tapes. Hot August Night was one of them, and it was the first time I heard Neil Diamond. This song spoke volumes to me with its sense of being caught between worlds and I first heard it at a difficult time in my life --the joys of elementary school--when I had teachers trying to figure out what to do with me and my contemporaries torturing me for being different. It was a relief to come to the conclusion that I was who I was and if others didn't like me for that, they didn't have to.


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