|...where I come from...|
A real Southern accent.
Growing up in rural Virginia, we weren't far enough south to have that distinctive drawl. Not like my second cousins from Atlanta...now, THEY sounded Southern. Folks from rural Virginia just sound like...well, folks from rural Virginia.
So, I didn’t realize I actually had an accent at all (Southern or otherwise) until I was a freshman in college.
During the first day of classes, the professor had all the fellas turn around and introduce themselves to the girls sitting behind them.
When the guy in front of me turned around, he stuck out his hand and I could have sworn he said
“hi! I’m Pool….the queen of Jamaica!” He said it real fast and he had this weird accent.
In my usual classy style, I said “do WHUT?” followed by I’m Barbra, from Wrrntn, Ver-gin-ya.
He cocked his head.
Still shaking hands, we both said, at the same time (very slowly and distinctly)…WHAT did you say? and tried the introduction again.
Turns out he was Paul…and from Jamaica, Queens, New York City.
I must say, that was a little disappointing…just that day I’d met people from all over the globe…but no Jamaican queens. He’d never heard of my little town (even when I said it with all the vowels in the right places ). That was understandable...we were just a dot on a map. But, he was more than a little bothered that I’d never been to New York City, never heard of Queens, and actually loved rural America. (the country? doncha want to move to the city?)
I could have walked away from the encounter with the cocky, Yankee, city boy just because I thought he talked funny. He could have walked away thinking that quiet, little hick girl sounded even funnier. But, somehow, we became friends, finding endless amusement in the other’s “mis-pronunciation” of words. In becoming friends, we were both exposed to worlds we had never even imagined.
It’s been a lifetime since those semesters in Bible College when I first found out that I had an accent. But, that was one of the most profound lessons I ever encountered about being open-minded and listening, really listening to what the other person is saying. (although, I have had to learn more than a few since then…just ask my kids)
Once we got past our communication issues, I think we each learned a thing or two about the other’s culture and worldview. He learned that you get much further by quietly saying “sir” and “ma’am” than you do yelling “yous guys are STOOPID” and punching things. (although, I must admit, I did try that approach once...and it resolved the issue in a flash!) I was able to show him the beauty of the quiet countryside and the value of a slower lifestyle, even though he was proud of his city neighborhood and his heritage. I learned that there is a great deal of strength and honor in being completely open and honest. You shouldn’t try to compromise and change just because other folks would find it easier. He was willing to take a stand and speak out for what he thought. Sometimes, he spoke out a little too much and got himself in trouble. (okay, so we had that in common)
Life events took us both far from that little campus and I have no idea what eventually happened to my friend. I’m pretty sure he never ended up farming like I did. (although, since I know he joined the Navy, I’m pretty certain he used sir and ma’am a lot) And I have never set foot in the big city…and have no intention of doing so.
But, that exposure to a different worldview was invaluable.
I got to thinking about my friend from the past after a few recent conversations left me scratching my head and saying DO WHUT? once more. (yeah, I’m still a class act) This time it wasn’t a matter of accent, it was more a different worldview, lack of information and suspicion from the other person. I’m still working on developing some sort of understanding.
If we’re ever going to share our story and have anyone appreciate our contributions to society and our way of life---we have to be willing to listen to theirs as well.
Perhaps, when we hear something that we think sounds weird, stupid or even crazy…maybe, just maybe we should find out WHAT the other person is actually saying...WHERE they are coming from (and I don't just mean geographically). It might just surprise us and cut down on a whole lot of heated debates if we all stopped with the knee-jerk reactions, slowed down and listened, really listened...
We might even make a friend!