Friday, December 17, 2010


‘Madison is gregarious and a friend to all.’

This was my kindergarten teacher’s yearbook description of five-year-old Madison. I’d say that seventeen years later, that’s probably still true.

Sometimes I like to tell people just how much I love them, just for fun. Sometimes I like to talk about totally random things. Sometimes I like to ask questions about others’ opinions on controversial topics. I like to know about the experiences of others; what brought them to where they are today. I like to talk out what’s been bothering me; I like to be available for other people to do that, too. I draw energy and fulfillment from such interactions.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to be gregarious or friend-ly when you don’t speak your community’s language. And having to sort of ‘subdue’ myself has been a challenge about my time in India that I never really foresaw. Rather than discussing life experiences, I discuss how many members are in my family; instead of talking about world views, I talk about if I’ve had tea that afternoon or not.

This is frustrating at different times and for different reasons. It’s frustrating when I want to tell Sherly Teacher how I love that she calls the cooks “chechi” (a respectful title for an older sister), which I’ve never heard any of the other teachers do. It’s frustrating when I want to ask Divya why she’s been crying, and see if I can help her in some way. It’s frustrating when I want to know about Gracy Kochamma’s life; her interests; her background. But I just don’t have the words, and neither do they.

There’s a lot of redeeming qualities about this sometimes difficult reality, though. Number one, I appreciate the meaningful interactions that I do have all the more.  The people I can speak to freely—Jim and Maggie, Thomas John Achen and Betty Kochamma, Jaimol Kochamma, and a small handful of Buchanan students—are like a breath of fresh air. I have also come to appreciate my simple interactions with the rest of the students and teachers even more. In the Malayalam arena, while discussing whether I’ve already had tea or not isn’t exactly higher-level subject matter, let’s remember that it wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t say even that. And on the English side of things, I know that many of the people by whom I’m surrounded are uncomfortable conversing in English, especially in front of a native speaker, so the fact that they make an effort to begin with is in itself something for which to be thankful.

More than anything, I am lucky to be part of a community that I love, and who (I think?) loves me—even if we don’t have the words to say it.

(But for the record, “I love you” in Malayalam is njan ninne snehikunnu :))

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you…” -Charles R. Swindoll

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