“It’s Always the Quiet Ones…”
Proverbs 21:23…”Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (New International Version)
There are a couple of more like proverbs that caution against “open mouth A, insert foot B.” I can taste my foot in both English and Spanish.
In the first few years of my teaching career, I taught Spanish. In one of my classes, there was a young lady who was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest, gentlest, kindest people I have ever known. She was a credit to the single, Christian mother who was raising her. I can see her even now, after nearly 40 years; her angelic face with its shy smile, soft brown, curling hair and her almost old fashioned clothing; she was the epitome of a “proper young lady.” And smart. She was an “A” student. And well liked. She got along with all the different “cliques” and groups that make up a student body, from the snooty to the street smart. Even her name, Eve, denoted a certain “throw back” to an almost forgotten era of sweet politeness. Teachers loved her. The kind of student that made you happy to teach. She was quiet spoken, helpful to her peers, invariably cheerful. I ruined it.
“What’s in a Word?”
Proverbs 17:22…”A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
As with many languages, Spanish incorporates some symbols that are absolutely necessary. Besides the accent marks, there are “umlauts” (the two dots above certain letters) and the “squiggle,” ~. It’s academic name is a “tilde (TEEL-day).” This little mark changes the pronunciation of an “n” from “n” to “nyah,” as the sound of the “ny” combo in canyon and Enya. It’s not an option to use or not use. It changes the meaning of some words; i. e….años means “years,” whereas anos means anuses. Couldn’t help myself….I always had to giggle when I pointed this mistake out to kids who thought they had written, “I am 15 years old, (Yo tengo quince anos…I have 15 anuses), as opposed to, “yo tengo quince años,” (I am/have 15 years) Just a bit of a difference.
At the beginning of many classes, I would have short, informal “quizzes,” perhaps a minute to five minutes in length, just to find any “holes” that needed filling in. One day, I wrote the different pronunciation symbols on the board, along with one or two other fillers. I asked for volunteers to supply the answers. Everything went along smoothly until we arrived at the “tilde.” Immediately I told them the answer absolutely was NOT a “squiggle.” I waited as they whispered and grimaced, scratching their heads. A hand shot up, and an excited smile lit up her face….Eve, ready to answer. I had expected no less from her.
To this day, I can see the scene as clearly as if it had occurred last week. Eve sitting at the back of the class, center row, flanked by two other girls. Her hand was waving slightly, her face beaming, as she said in a quietly excited voice, “Oh, I know! I know!” I said, “Eve, you’re on!” She sat up a bit straighter, took in a breath and looking around at her classmates, she proudly pronounced, “It’s a dildo!” Seriously, this was a girl who had never uttered a questionable word or phrase in her life. The other kids were looking to me, wide eyed, and trying to figure out my next move. (This, as I said, was at least forty years ago, when students still had some respect for classroom decorum!) Honestly, I did not mean to do what I did. I collapsed over my desk, howling with laughter. The entire class followed suit, laughing uproariously, and looking at poor, baffled Eve. She, in turn, was looking questioningly at me, at everyone, completely innocent as to what she had just said. The girl sitting to her left leaned over and whispered to her, letting her know exactly what she had said to cause such chaos.
The look on her dear face haunts me. Her cheeks were fire engine red, her eyes brimmed with tears, and she looked shamefully down at her desk. I tried to play it off for what it was, just a wonderfully funny, innocent mix-up of words, something anyone could have done, and I told her she was very brave for taking a shot at it. She was having none of it. She said not one other word the entire class, and when the bell finally rang, she left, never acknowledging me in any way. I thought I would talk to her in a couple of days, explaining that it really was OK to have made such an honest slip of the tongue, and that I, nor anyone else in that room, certainly was not laughing at her. Didn’t work. The poor girl never answered another question in my class, and, at the semester break, she checked out. I would see her around the school periodically, but we didn’t speak. I can only believe that she somehow saw that word choice as a reflection on her character. My howling like a demented hyena was definitely in character for me…it’s that “mouth” and “tongue” problem I have. But, truly, I never meant to “crush the spirit” in her, and I have, in my prayers, asked for her forgiveness for giving her “dried bones.” I sincerely hope that she has gone on to have an incredibly fabulous life, full of love and prosperity, and that, because of my insensitivity, she hasn’t become a pole dancer.