I’m easily annoyed. I know it, and I often try to fight it, to eliminate it for my own peace of mind or at least to hide it from others as a contribution to the general welfare. Sometimes a good eye roll, though, is such a relief!
I’m also at an age when I find college-aged people to be alternately annoying and wonderful. Sometimes I wonder how these great kids have managed to turn out so much better, so much kinder, so much more thoughtful than their parents, and other days I wonder why their parents let them live. Did I say I’m also prone to extremes?
When I commuted home to Orem from Salt Lake, I used to have to transfer buses at the UVSC stop – the place that is now Utah Valley University. (That’s another annoyance. Did you know that if you went to school there back when it was a trade-tech that taught nothing more advanced than changing spark plugs, you can request a new diploma with the new school name, making it appear as though you had earned a university degree?) The stop was always filled with students, most of them Asian kids living in an apartment complex across the road.
Those kids annoyed me. I don’t know where they were from or what language(s) they spoke, but they never spoke English. They laughed a lot, too. It’s not unknown for people my age to be so egotistical and paranoid as to fear the kids were talking about me. Annoying.
They also wore flip-flops, dragging them annoyingly along the ground so that no matter how they quickened their pace or lengthened their stride, some part of their footwear was always scraping the sidewalk. It was such uniform behavior that I guessed it was a purposely cultivated cultural habit – but, by golly, my mother had ingrained in me the habit to “pick up your feet!” and the scraping of those flip-flops was annoying. Annoying, I tell you.
9/11 happened while I was still commuting. In the earliest days afterward, there was some uncertainty as to how Americans would treat foreigners in response. Although I understand there were too many instances of anger against innocent Muslims (American as well as foreign), that ugliness seemed to pass quickly in light of the genuine sympathy offered by so many nations. Will you ever forget the picture of all those British sailors lined up on the deck of their naval vessel, holding an American flag and saluting American sailors on a passing ship?
A few days after 9/11, somebody promoted the idea of everybody dressing in red, white and blue on a certain day. I didn’t join in – that’s not the way I’m made. But I did see quite a few people wearing red, white and blue that day.
Including every Asian kid at the UVSC bus stop.
I remembered that this morning when I read this story in the Christian Science Monitor. The writer is an American who had been studying Chinese at Sichuan University in Chengdu when the earthquake hit. She contributed clothing to the relief effort and sympathy to the general atmosphere, and she joined in the three minutes of silence a week afterward, choosing a site on the university campus where she was surrounded by her colleagues.
Usually on a Chinese campus, a foreigner draws some attention. Those who speak English will shyly approach for a hoped-for chat. A few will look and whisper, poking one another to go talk to the person from overseas.
But this time, I had become a part of China. We all knew the solemnity of this occasion. We were all connected. There was no desire to single out one of us as being any different from the other.
In the distance, an emergency siren started its three-minute wail. Cars parked nearby joined in with a steady, constant blaring of their horns.
The students bowed their heads. No one moved. No one spoke. We just stood, thinking of those who had lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes, and their entire communities in a single moment.
As the three minutes came to a close, the sirens faded. Car horns ceased blaring. Some students filed forward, taking turns at placing their paper carnations or fresh flowers at the foot of the Chinese flag.
With the ceremony over, I made my way home. The campus walkways provided a pleasantly shady journey under arched trees and along quiet roads, giving me some time for thoughtful reflection.
I know that the heaviness still felt by all of us can’t be wiped away with a few minutes of national silence. Yet, walking back through the campus on that Monday, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe, just maybe, our shared moments together had placed us on a quicker path to healing.
Shared silence. Or the choice to wear red, white and blue clothing.