Saturday, October 15, 2011

Once upon a time in Beaverton

In the mid 90's I worked with a fellow named Mark who started an activist group.  While I don't know exactly what inspired him to advocate vegetable rights, the concept cracked me up and I loved his logo.  Perhaps as a child his mother forced him to eat his veggies.  Or maybe he dated a militant vegan.  Judging by Mark's personality I'd say he came up with the idea purely for the reaction factor. 

At the same place of employment I met a gal named Nancy.  She was a bit odd, had a non-traditional outlook on life and lived in a motor home with her dog.  During the week Nancy parked the motor home at various friend's homes or the company's back lot.  Weekends and holidays she escaped the city to camp alongside moving water, ocean or river, and work on craft projects.  Nancy was also into self-exploration: self-help books and workshops, tarot and mystics.  Pretty much when I first met her I thought she was a kook or the last remaining hippie who hadn't gotten the news the 70's were over.

Then there was Rosa, a beautiful Cambodian woman with a terrific sense of humor.  The trick was you had to get to know her to realize she was telling a joke.  For the most part Rosa kept to herself, did her job and rarely uttered a word - until she met me.  Lucky for me Rosa decided we'd make great friends which is how I came to know her story. 

First impressions can be very deceiving.  How we analyze and classify someone often is prejudiced by where our head is at and / or external factors.  I had just moved back to Portland after burying my father.  To say I was dealing with a lot of unresolved issues fails to convey my level of anger and frustration.  These three people saw in me a kindred spirit and went out of their way to help ease my burden.

I was having a particularly bad night, (we worked second shift) and was looking for any excuse to pitch a fit and quit.  Nancy moved over to the desk next to mine and unasked began assisting me prep parts.  But instead of working at a let's get this done and over with pace, she very annoyingly took minutes to do one part.  Realizing I was about to scream Nancy held up a resistor and said how much she appreciated the bands of color.  I'm sure I gave her a look that said she was going soft in the head.  One by one, each part she picked up Nancy made a statement about it's sharpness of lines or contrasts in colors.  Gently she was distracting me, halting my frantic pace and shifting my focus.  It took her most the shift but I've never forgotten the lesson, the Zen of prepping parts.

Months later Mark shared how he endeavored everyday to get me to laugh.  One, he figured me laughing greatly reduced the chances of homicide taking place.  And two, focusing on me diverted his mind off his problems.  Because of Mark I make it a practice to get a minimum of three people to smile each day and if I can get them to laugh that's even better.

Rosa shared her life story with me.  I'm sure she omitted or glossed over parts that were still open wounds, too painful for her to deal with despite time and distance.  I cried when I heard it and still cry when I think about what she went through.  Rosa's is a story of perserverance, of believing her lot in life could change with the very next breath.  For the longest time I failed to understand why, when given the opportunity, Rosa passed on gaining revenge.  I know it isn't just Americans who are raised with the notion you did to me and now I'm going to do back to you.  Once I crawled out of my anger I realized the moral to her story.  The only winning move is not to play; do not perpetuate stupidity. 

Sixteen years ago, purely by chance these three people came into my life at the same time and when I needed them most.  It took all three to make an impact.  I lost contact with Mark and Rosa about ten years ago.  Cancer took Nancy five years back.  The person I am today, tomorrow and ten years from now is due in part to them.  Maybe they'll never know the impact they made but everyone I've met since has reaped the benefits of these three making me their friend.

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