I spoke to a new learner yesterday. She is a journalist and a television host. When I heard her speak of her work, I heard her express the enthusiasm and fascination for her work that I feel for mine. In writing this I realize that with the exception of my friend Linda, a third grade teacher, I don’t usually hear people talk about their work this way. Both Linda and my learner yesterday speak of their work with a sort of lilt in their voice, with adoration for the people they encounter and a sense of enchantment in the description of their experiences. I too love my work and though Monday always comes too soon, I face my day with an excited sense of anticipation. I fall a bit in love with every learner I encounter. They all become a part of me.
My first lesson begins at 6:00 a.m. my time or 1:00 p.m. France time. Before my first lesson, I drink a cup of coffee and scan the International news. If the French president has made a speech or if the European Stock Market drops, I need to know the details so that I can have a relatively articulate conversation on the issue. I find that people learn to speak English easier if they are speaking on a subject which is important to them.
I sometimes become so absorbed in my work that if I am not interrupted by the normal course of the day, such as my husband coming home for lunch, I become stuck in a sort of nether land. I have one foot in another time zone, another culture and another way of thinking. I enter into board rooms, family dinners, presentations and employee evaluations. I hear details about tense conversation between colleagues, fears about the decline of production and the excitement of a promotion. I become so bonded with my learners that after the first few minutes of a lesson I once sensed my learner’s vague nausea and asked her if she was going to tell me that she was pregnant. She gasped and said, “How could you know, I’ve told no one”. I’ve silently wept as a female executive cried explaining that her husband left her “again”, this time for good.
When my last lesson ends I tend to look around me, notice the light filtering into the room and I’m often shocked by my surroundings. I notice a film of dust on a picture frame, a photo of my smiling children, a plastic figurine of “Yoda” (he looks down upon me silently imparting wisdom) and then I enter into the reality of my world.
I sometimes carry with me the things that I have heard, a story about a ninety year old grandfather living in Breton who has mastered the internet and uses his mobile phone with the skill of a teenager, the image of my learner who describes the beautiful new shoes she bought which she later learned hurt her feet or the frustrations of a 28 year old engineer who hates his job and longs for employment which offers more immediate results, like that of a baker. I sometimes carry with me the aloof air of a Parisian, silently judgmental of the processed foods in the grocery cart of the person in front of me. I find myself stopping before dashing out the door to the supermarket in my workout clothes and meticulously choosing a skirt and applying cosmetics.
Perhaps the most magical experiences are those with a new learner in which they are initially shy and very nervous. Over time I have the opportunity to hear them gain enough confidence and vocabulary to begin to express themselves and their personality blossoms before me. I learn that they have a hilarious sense of humor or a tender heart or that they are a cancer survivor. It is those moments that I sit at my computer on my side of the world, close my eyes and bask in the wonder of that connection.