Today, as an OT activity designed to get to know each other, we had to, without speaking, line ourselves up in order of our ages. Pllt. That was easy enough. Without hesitation, I walked to the end of the line. Stayed there, too. Turned out I was right. I am 11 years older than the woman standing next to me. She was 42. We had to go down the line and say our names, our age, and tell something interesting about ourselves. It was interesting to get the little glimpses into everyone else and their lives.
The more time I spend in the class, the more I feel that this is where I was meant to be. Surprisingly, I've put myself in a situation where flying by the seat of your pants and having good people skills is a plus. The instructors talk quickly, animatedly, and sometimes lose track of their train of thought just like me.
In English composition class, I sit in the back row. The boy who sets next to me is an intense techno kid, obviously very smart. The boy on the other side of him wears a black leather arm band with shell casings, chains, tattoos, the whole nine yards. The teacher says controversial things sometimes just to get something stirred up. She brought up the mosque at ground zero. Mister-wears-his-ammo-on-his wrist obviously had strong feelings on the subject and began to espouse them. I listened, but then I countered with "You know, not all Muslims are radicals. The terrorists are scary people, but there are some fundamentalist Christian groups out there that scare me just as badly. I think that having a mosque there would be an opportunity for the Muslims to try to counter the negative stereotypes that many Americans have about Islam since 9/11." Mr. WHAOHW immediately shot back, heatedly, "It's like pouring salt in a wound," to which I countered, "Interesting metaphor, since the reason one pours salt in a wound is to draw out the infection." He snapped, "You can do the same thing with maggots!" to which I responded, mildly, "Yes, you can." The class went on, and there were many more discussions. Before too long, it became very apparent that there were many things that this young man and I will probably never agree on. However at one point, I was speaking on the Gettysburg address. The teacher felt that maybe it was too idealistic. I feel that it is possibly one of the greatest speeches ever, and I defended it, reminding her that this address was originally given to the relatives of soldiers who had fallen at Gettysburg, during the dedication of a battlefield cemetery there. Lincoln was an embattled president, and his presidency was riddled with criticisms and ridicule, yet when he stood before these bereaved families, he did not shy away from raising the specters the dead soldiers. He was direct, and challenged them all to dedicate their lives to working towards the ideals that the soldiers had died for. What politicians do we have today that would speak so directly? They're more concerned with avoiding any comment that might generate controversy." I was surprised to see Mr. WHAOHW lean back in his chair and flash me a big smile, nodding his head. Later, when he commented that we all are losing the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, I had to agree with that.
After class, I was gathering my things together. It had been a long day, and I had a lot of books to get back to my car. I turned around, and was surprised to see him standing there. "I'm sorry if I seemed too aggressive," he said. "Oh, I'm opinionated too," I said. "Other points of view are interesting. I was not offended." He thrust out his hand, and said, "Thanks. I get emotional sometimes." I laughed and shook his hand. "Sometimes, I cry when I get fired up." He looked shocked and said, "Don't do that!" and I promised that I would not, as long as he did not expect me to agree with everything he had to say.
I walked through the crowds with my books and backpack and purse. I made my way across the parking lot to my car. You know, I really do think that if you listen to another person, no matter how differently they may look, no matter how differently they think, you're going to find common ground. If you listen.