Wednesday, November 23, 2011
"Hey! You Speak My Language!"
While waiting for the bus to take us home from Thanksgiving shopping from my husband's work at Giant Eagle, my husband and I took advantage of the twenty minutes or so to watch the rainpour and chat in our language...Hebrew.
Suddenly, an African American guy turned to us and asked, "What language are you speaking?"
"Hebrew," we replied.
"Shalom," he said.
"Shalom," we said back.
"Mah zeh? - what's this?" he said. "Mah zeh!"
I couldn't help but laugh. "You're laughing," he said. [That was something my dad would of course, have said....]
Little did he know that I was really laughing because I was surprised to find myself utterly connected with a stranger through language at that very moment.
I swear that the fact that he spoke just those few words in HEBREW lit the way during that stormy night. The light gave me "voice" - my language was recognized. I wasn't melting with all the other voices.
It would be one thing to "blend" with all the other voices. "It would be another thing to blend with all the other voices and still stick to my own voice and story.
But because I tend to shrink under my own light, I don't even get to the part where I allow my voice be woven in those colorful and rich strands of diversity.
So that moment allowed for some inter-cultural exchange and communication that also just happened to be grounded in a diverse setting.
That I wasn't alone. That I wasn't emotionally isolated. And that it is possible to find a connection. Somebody was actually speaking our language. OUR language. MY language.
"I know just a few words from when I worked with Israelis in New York City. They would always say, "Mah-zeh, mah-zeh, all the time."
"Yep," I said. "I can see that happening."
"What kind of business were they in?" My husband asked. "Clothing or electronics."
"Uh, clothing," he said thoughtfully.
"Shloshim v'shalosh. Shloshim v'taysha," - Thirty-three, thirty-nine.
I laughed again.
Ivry, my son said, "Shloshim v'shalosh."
"I was working at the store in 1995," he said. "I was a security guy."
"Oh man," my husband said.
"I was making $4.20 cents an hours and lived out in Queens."
"And you travelled two hours by train each way."
"Yep. That's right."
"And I was paying 85 dollars a week for renting this room," he said.
"A room?" I asked.
"Yeah, a room. That's all I needed at the time."
"How old were you, 18?" Ivry asked.
"Smart boy," he said. "Give me five."
As they high-fived, he said, "19. I was nineteen and that was all I needed."
Haim and I went back to our chat, but the moment wasn't the same. We knew that even though other people like this African-American gentleman couldn't understand our conversation, he was, at the very least, privy to a connection that also brought him connected to his past and memory and who he was.
"You're a good man," Haim said. "I can tell."
"Thank you - TODA."
And on the bus ride home, just before he finished up his cell phone conversation and exited the bus, he turned to me and said with a smile for all the people on the bus to hear, "SHALOM."