Espanish

Just got back from the doc where I got my flu shot. Usually I get them at City Market but I felt like driving in the opposite direction, Del Norte, not Alamosa. Beautiful drive. Jewel-clear sky. I had to wait a while and while I was waiting a couple of workmen came in — one wearing a Colorado Department of Highways vest and hat. He had a Hispanic guy with him. He’d parked in front of the clinic and helped the Hispanic guy inside. He said to the people at the desk, “He’s bad, he’s bad. You need to help him,” and went back out to move his truck.

I got the impression that the Anglo workman didn’t speak Spanish and the Hispanic workman didn’t speak English and all that could happen between them was the Hispanic guy looking very ill and saying, “Boss, I’m bad, I’m bad” and maybe something about “el doctor”. And the Anglo guy getting enough of the picture to bring him to the clinic.

The receptionist asked the Hispanic guy a few questions in Spanish. The accent here is so beautiful it makes my heart sing. I didn’t understand anything except, “Estoy malo. Muy malo,” answered by, “Lo siento. Por favor, siéntate. Llamaré a una mujer que hable español mejor que yo”. The poor guy sat down. (“I’m bad, very bad” answered by “I’m sorry. Please have a seat. I’ll call a woman who speaks Spanish better than I do.”)

Soon a woman came out who was able to ask him the kinds of questions a doctor would need answers to. She sat down beside him they talked. Then a nurse called me. As I walked slowly behind the nurse (I am venturing out without a cane) I saw the man was in a wheelchair and was being rushed over to the hospital on the walkway that connects the clinic to the hospital.

Maybe that woman’s abilities in Spanish will end up saving that man’s life.

This morning I went to the Post Office and the guy there congratulated me on my book and the article in the newspaper. I thanked him. In my town you get to be famous longer than 15 minutes. I mailed my stuff, we wished each other a good day, and the next guy came up. They greeted each other in Spanish. I was a little envious. Around here, the Hispanics are brown and the Anglos are white and they kind of don’t mix. You can’t see past the surface that the Anglo woman might have a Hispanic heart.

I love Spanish. I can speak it. I haven’t since I moved here so my Spanish is rusty, and that bothers me.

I recently saw Kellyanne Conway speak from the White House Lawn. She said, “I’m monolingual. I’m truly American.” Of course she’s an idiot, nonetheless, I felt very ashamed.

After thirty years in California, the ONLY friends I (ultimately) left behind were Mexican. My friend, Sofi, didn’t speak English comfortably or well. She is a very sensitive woman with tender feelings and a sincere heart. There was a day she had gone with Andy, her husband, to his boss’ house for a Christmas party. She made a mistake in English, and the woman laughed at her. I don’t think Sofi ever wanted to try again, but she did sometimes with me. My Spanish is so far from perfect, but I don’t think perfection is the point of language. I think communication is, and I was pretty fearless and open with the family about that. I became a member of their family and they became my family, too.

I was really alone at that time in my life. Their friendship meant the world to me and vice versa, but it would never have happened without my bad Spanish.

As I watched that poor man being rushed to the hospital I thought I’m just really lucky to have had a dad who thought Spanish was beautiful, to have always wanted to see the world and meet the people in it and to have been willing to put in some effort to reach at least a basic conversational ability in several languages. The whole world has passed through my life — from the Dalai Lama to Arab pilots to Argentinian Jews to Chinese diplomats (and more) — and being able to say at least “Hello” and “Thank you” creates goodwill like nothing else can and mistakes really don’t matter.

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