today i spoke to a student who is currently studying at my alma mater. she’s working on a documentary on immigrants from asia and is interested in interviewing my parents. she was such a delight to talk to…even though i was born in america, and she immigrated from korea when she was 13 years old, we shared similar perspectives on what it was like trying to ‘fit into the american culture. she put it beautifully when she told me that she spent many years as an ‘observer’ of life, rather than a ‘participant’. this rang so true for me. for the first 20 years of my life i was an observer – “it’s better to listen than to talk” is what i was told. and so i listened…
up to a certain age i listened, and then i began to hear “oh, she’s shy, she doesn’t like to talk” and pretty soon i was afraid to talk for fear i would shock people if i opened my mouth, and i didn’t want to bring attention to myself. it was as if i were walking around with a label across my forehead – “i’m shy”. at some point i thought about speaking up, but it didn’t help when kids at school would yell “ching chong chinaman, go home” and throw pebbles at me when the teachers weren’t looking.
english was my native tongue, yet i was afraid i might say something wrong, so i would practice in my head what i would want to say, and i became so focussed on what words to use, that i would forget to listen, and i would miss most of what was being said.
the funny thing is that i wasn’t afraid to talk to little kids, or to animals. in fact, i felt like a completely different person around them. i could be funny, silly and they in turn liked me. for some reason i felt safe around little kids and animals.
what i understand now is that little kids and animals weren’t judging me – they accepted me just the way i was. i was free to be me and i didn’t have to worry about what they were thinking about me. my connection with children and animals is a language of the heart that i felt most comfortable using and remains one of my most favorite ways of living through my heart.