Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Speak as if You Found Your Tribe
In just a few moments, you'll be walking up that familiar hill to your son's school. You have waited so long for this moment to spend time with him, and you know he's looking forward to it too.
All the way up the hill, you'll be people observing as if you've lived in Pittsburgh all your life. You call it, "quiet meditating." I call it, "craziness." But .. why not? The weather's in your favor, and you got a little time....just a little...
And then, there's a stranger of a man approaching you, who chats on his cell-phone oblivious of anybody - just like you have become. He thinks probably nobody understands his Hebrew. Nobody!
But you do... only it takes a few seconds to figure it out. He has to listen first and then talk. After all, this IS America. Not everybody is an Israeli - but of course you knew that, didn't you. But that doesn't mean anything for this Israeli - so what if he listens? He talks loudly, but the thing that is most important for you is... well, you UNDERSTAND every single word!
Well, you understand that this flicker of a common language between you and this stranger of a man, is a homey moment. In your hometown of NYC, people just don't have time and don't care if you speak Hebrew because everybody speaks Hebrew, but here's the thing... Pittsburgh, as you are finding out still, is not like NYC. People have time and patience. They also speak as if they found their tribe - that the other person understands even BEFORE they say something back.
You spend a few moments waiting for your son's class to show up from gym. And as you wait, you notice the children from the other first grade class. One skips, one runs to class. The teacher reprimands those that do not conform, and tells them to go back and they walk again... this time quietly. But because they know you are watching them, they walk with a "twinkle" in their step. Maybe two. But you didn't see that - did you?
And in your son's first grade class, you find the-child-in-me-tribe. Children just need to know you are part of their tribe; you can never fake having fun playing a board game. My son proudly joined me and our moment was ours to enjoy. In your game sharing tribe, we learn to share, take turns, "pick an apple," and have a few laughs. The child next to me says, "I like your son. He has red hair." You smile.
And back outside, the sun beats on the dirty sidewalks. You reach the corner of Murray and Forward and wait on the corner for the bus to take you up yet another hill. You've decided to make it easier for yourself by not making yet another trek up ANOTHER hill. A bus is a perfect place for "people watching."
There was this man on the bus who said to me, "bless you," when I sneezed. I had just pulled my nose away from my sleeve. And there was another man catching his breath with a walker. The older man had just a few hairs left on his shiny bald head and it looked as if they were soaked in sweat. It had to be because it wasn't raining. The young man with the walker said something that made the older man go into deeper in thought; the older man chatted with the bus driver as if they had lived in the same town all their lives.
"Now I remember when you could smoke on those T's going up that hill," the bus driver said.
"Yeah - that was another era," the older man said with a nonchalant expression. "So ...these are coach seats?" (referring to the seats, you know, the serpentine bus with an accordion stretcher in the middle that gracefully opens and closes when the bus makes a turn) I had never thought of the seats on a 61D city bus in Pittsburgh as "coach seats." Wait... did he said, "Coach seats?"
I keep a glittery artificial smile to calm the stressed lady across from me. As long as I'm wearing shades - it won't be hard to pull this smile off.
So speak as if you know and found your tribe.
Your tribe is waiting for you. I'm sure you know that by now. If you don't, well, I can tell you that everybody has a tribe. Only it took me words and years of those words to find out my voice through that tribe....
When I hear Hebrew on a Pittsburgh street in Squirrel Hill, I know there isn't this foreign language acting as a barrier between me and the speaker as it was before I left for Israel. I can play the role of the "silent one." Or I can respond in Hebrew. Whatever. I. Choose.
And now, that I've joined a tribe, I can be part of several - for instance, a "bus tribe," or, at "the-corner-waiting-for-the-bus tribe," a "bagel factory" tribe - everything that is language and everything else that isn't - food included. Because a tribe that is universal is also understood.