Breaking the barriers

April 20, 2008 — Leave a comment

Friday was such an incredibly gorgeous spring day. . . and a perfect evening to take the kids to the park. I always enjoy going there, unless it’s entirely too busy (and we’re starting to get to that point).

I love having some hang-out time with the kids. I also enjoy watching people and getting to meet some of them. This particular park experience is worth sharing.

While my son played on the monkey bars, I pushed my daughter in the swing. After just a few minutes of play, a woman and her two-year-old grand-daughter joined us. It didn’t take long for me to realize that neither of them spoke English. . . so I tapped into the fading reservoir of Spanish that I learned as a student in high school and college. Spanish was my college minor, and while I am not fluent in it, I can manage my way through a conversation with someone who is willing to be patient.

Early in our exchange, Maria asked me if I spoke Spanish. I replied, “Si, un poquito, pero mi espanol es lastimoso.” (Translation: Yes, a little bit, but my Spanish is pitiful.) I convinced her that I really needed to practice my Spanish skills, so she was willing to engage me in basic conversation. At first Maria seemed a bit unsure of my intentions when I began speaking Spanish to her. However, throughout the course of our time playing with the kids, she began to open up and share with me.

I found out that Maria is from El Salvador and has lived in the Dallas area for four years — and in Plano for just a couple months.  She and her grand-daughter, Samantha, now live in an apartment community nearby.

As we talked with one another and taught each other new words, Maria’s entire countenance began to change. I am convinced that this was the first time she had ever conversed casually with a white, English-speaking man. And as the conversation went along, the look on her face transitioned from skepticism to joy.

At the end of our park visit, Maria thanked me for talking with her and allowing my daughter to play with her grand-daughter.

Through the course of my interaction with Maria, I was able to accomplish several things. I practiced my Spanish skills — and even learned a few new words. I invited Maria to check out the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at my church. And I provided encouragement to her as she settles into a new community.

However, the most important thing I accomplished was to challenge myself to reach down — deep down — into my very limited word bank of Spanish.

Of course, that’s not entirely true, is it? I think something much more important than that was accomplished.

While Maria doesn’t speak my language, she is more like me than different from me. She has hopes, dreams, and fears — just like me. She has a strong commitment to family, just like me. And she very much desires to be accepted and loved.

I don’t know a lot of details about what her experience in America has been like. I don’t know if she is a US citizen or not. But I do know that she is a human being. And I hope that by crossing over a common barrier, I was able to offer her a measure of dignity and respect that will make her more trusting of people and will help her believe that she can learn English too.

I originally studied Spanish in order to broaden my horizons as a news reporter (back when that was my life’s passion). As a Mississippian transplanted to Texas thirteen years ago, I now realize that I will still have plenty of opportunities to use Spanish — if I’m willing to keep up my skills. My conversation with Maria challenges me to be more diligent about learning the language. When barriers are broken, doors of opportunity are opened. I consider my visit with Maria to be a special blessing.

What barriers are keeping you from experiencing special blessings? I think that if we’re honest, when we encounter barriers in life, there’s always a part of us that thinks it would just be easier to stay the same. . . to not invest the energy required to be different. . . to settle for comfort rather than risk embarrassment or vulnerability.

I challenge you this day to not believe that lie. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the risk. Whether you’re facing barriers in marriage, barriers in weight loss, barriers at work — or any of a whole host of other issues — choose this day to begin breaking through. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.

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