Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, February 18, 2008

Spare a Thought

Ships, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ships that pass in the night
and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown
and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life
we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice;
then darkness again and a silence.

Whatever part of the world one resides in, one ought to be kind to out-of-towners and foreigners. When my Spouse landed in America ten years ago he had 5000 dollars in his pocket. He was hungry, both professionally and literally. He could not drive and so could not get to a single place that sold food. Languishing in the isolated motel in early evening with nothing to eat except popcorn and with hundreds of channels available on the television it all seemed like a cruel trick of fate. My Spouse had arrived from Japan where punctuality is central to civilisation and efficiency. He remembers a newspaper in Japan once boldly announcing that a bullet train had been a few minutes late. It had made national headlines. Spouse had spent enough time among the people of Japan to have become equally acquainted with the necessity of accurate timekeeping.
Breakfast, Spouse had been told, would be available at 6:30 AM. At 6:30 AM, having been awake for hours with hunger pains, Spouse went to the restaurant to finally eat. The restaurant was closed. Spouse had, unfortunately, arrived in the United States on the very evening that Daylight Savings Time began and it was in fact 5:30 AM. Bitterly hungry, Spouse waited for another hour.
"It was a new 6:30," Spouse told me.
That same morning Spouse received his first telephone call in the United States. He picked up the receiver and said, startled, "hello?"
"I love you," chimed a lady's voice in sing-song rhythm.
"I'm sorry, you have a wrong number," said my ever-polite Spouse without missing a beat. When one knows nobody at all within a distance of thousands of miles, there can be no hesitation in deciding the validity of messages.
There was a stunned silence and then the embarrassed woman disconnected rapidly.

A colleague was scheduled to pick up my Spouse and take him to work on the first morning. The fellow had been told to be there at 8 AM. At two minutes past eight Spouse made a telephone call to enquire about whether his driver, who he of course did not know at all, was really picking him up.
"Are you coming over?" he asked as politely as was possible.

After work, Spouse needed, of course. to find some dinner. Spouse then attempted to cross the road in order to do so. The road was extremely busy. After a period of about ten minutes Spouse understood sadly that the road was quite possibly going to continue to be busy and he would not be able to get to the other side. It is a fine thing that he realised just in time, for he had been examining the perilous freeway which is illegal to cross and is so for very good reason: chances were slim that a person would survive traversing a road where the vehicles were passing by so quickly as to be a blur.
Spouse had no dinner that night or all that week. As a result he took some driving lessons; prior to this he had spent a scant few hours inside a car in his entire life. Spouse had his driver's licence before the end of the following week through sheer lack of food and through utter desperation.

My Spouse dislikes popcorn and television; his metabolism requires him to partake of food every couple of hours. I cannot now envision a more lonely picture: that of my Spouse sitting alone in a thrilling country he cannot explore, while ravenous with hunger and, worst of all ironies, with money burning a hole in his pocket. I find the scene indescribably poignant and heartbreaking.

During his first week in America Spouse had thousands of dollars to spend and a cheery telephone message of love. Neither of them meant a thing given the circumstances.
So, spare a thought for the newly arrived people in a foreign and unfamiliar land, to the immigrants lost and alone in our country: they need our help, our friendliness and our consideration.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is poignant to be a "stranger in a strange land". I am glad Spouse found you.


Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Thank you, Harriet. You say such nice things :)

Please look around, explore my writing, leave a crumb:
I welcome comments and thoughts.