How to stumble your way through the humble and humiliating

I’ve joined a writing class. In Portuguese. Yeah, it’s going as you’d expect: it’s a lesson in humility.

Take action or stop complaining

The thing is, you can complain about something or you can go learn to do better.

I’m good enough at Portuguese these days that I know I have my failings and where they are more or less, but not good enough to know how to fix them. And my co-workers are getting overwhelmed with my questions of: “But WHY do you say it like that?”

It was time for some tough love. It was time to seek out an expert.

Classes on the hilltop

So every Tuesday at 4:30pm, I trudge past the church, past the hospital, and up the San Francisco-grade hill to my classroom.

silhouette of a humbling uphill climb

my walk to school

I sit among the voice-cracking teenagers training for their placement exams and learn all the ways that I still can’t figure out when you use an X versus a CH (I am disappointed it is chuchu not xuxu, but xingar–to scold–is a truly fabulous word), the difference between S, SS, SC, and Ç (yes, they have all four–who knew?–and they all make the same damn sound), the four different ways they have to say WHY/BECAUSE (which are all disturbingly similar), and when Brazilians use the comma (hint: everywhere).

The saving grace is the teacher, who is giddy with the discovery of another voracious reader/writer in town where most people only read the Bible. He tries to be as kind to me as he can; but it’s clear that sometimes he’s smiling that gentle smile that says: “I have no idea what you just said, but mmmm, the parts I did get sounded kinda interesting.”  I know that smile. I’m a mother of a storytelling four year old. I’ve used that smile. Writing class is a humbling experience.

Me, in writing class. You’re dead, dumb bunny. Dead, dead, DEAD.

Some of us make mistakes, Some of us make it a lifestyle

In general, being an immigrant is humbling.

All of us stumble occasionally, and some of us make a lifestyle out of it.

I asked a clarification of a saying in a team meeting the other day; I just couldn’t follow the discussion of a student’s struggles without it. My co-worker swished her hair over her shoulder, batted her superhumanly long eyelashes at me (truly–I spent half this meeting deliberating whether or not they were false; the jury’s still out), and gushed that she was pleased as Sunday punch to finally be able to help educate the American in the subtleties of Brazilian culture! Taken aback that my little clarification had just become the topic of round-table discussion, all I could mumble-grumble was: “Oh lord, please. This is my everyday, m’dear.”

Afterwards I couldn’t help but fume: there’s a particular type of courage that it takes to be an immigrant. It takes a courage that few understand to show up and admit that you have no idea, over and over, every single day, just so that you can win participation in the most basic aspects of life. If you haven’t walked this path it’s easy to overlook it. But damn, that immigrant who drives your taxi probably has more courage than you’ll ever know. He has to.

There’s a courage in showing up every day, knowing that most likely you’ll fail, but here you are anyhow because the only way out is through.

A salute to the stumblers

There’s a woman in my writing class that annoys the holy hell out of me. She’s more dense than the usual walnut, and it’s fingernails on my mental chalkboard. I have little patience for idiots. But really, if I stop my knee-jerk (emphasis on “jerk”) reaction, I gotta admire her gumption. Like the overweight person in the gym, she’s showing up with what she’s got and doing what she can. So many people stop short of that. Bravo. So who’s to judge? Certainly not the foreigner with the truly terrible spelling, that’s for sure.

We’re in this together. You bumble down your path, I’ll try to wander humbly down mine. And if you stumble, I’ll try to be there to pick you up.


Feature photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

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