What I am about to write is not Today’s Perfect Moment. It was definitely a moment, but beyond that I am a little unsure.
I accompanied one of my co-workers to the subway. We have been on a hello, how was your weekend basis for a while now and I had no fear that a walk to the subway would a trek of uncomfortable silence. Usually when ESL teachers walk to the subway, they are either blowing off steam at the students or at the company (or both). Neither of these holds a lot of excitement for me, but neither requires much of effort to listen to–a few head nods, a few I know what you mean glances, maybe even a few what are you gonna do shrugs are usually sufficient.
This co-worker is relatively new and probably will come up short when student numbers decline as the weather gets colder. The first year at any ESL school is likely to contain the same drama. Winter is not a time when the majority of students from warm climates want to experience Canada.
Unbeknownst to me, this person has been having a bad time. Looking for new work to replace the slowly disappearing one has yielded only negative comments about the person’s nationality from some countries that perceive English speakers in only one shade. Adding to this misery, this person’s current class has managed to wrest power from the teacher and make the lessons seem far longer and far less engaging than they should be.
While relating the above traumatic recent present, this person started crying. While some of that was drowned out by the traffic and hum of construction equipment, much of it was not. I tried to be helpful and supportive, but we don’t have that kind of relationship and I am somewhat ignorant of the cultural aspects I might be breaking if I offer the comfort in the wrong way. I made jokes and seemingly made all the right sounds that seemed to bring about a bit of relief.
Later in the subway, this person confided more difficult aspects of their personal life and doubts about where it is going. They apologized for the crying, to which I responded that an apology is not necessary and that I wish I could do more. This person merely shook their head and said something rather profound to me. “You’re listening. That’s a big help.”
I found it profound because I get the feeling that many of us need someone to listen to us. We need someone just to hear the words we are saying. Maybe this is so it doesn’t seem like we are talking to ourselves. Maybe this is so we can articulate what is bothering us more clearly and more truthfully. Maybe it is because we just don’t want to feel alone.
As I stated above. This is not Today’s Perfect Moment. It is something else.