Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Human Interaction: its Cruelties, Ambiguities, and What I Learned in Service

Stepping out of the van onto the high school campus swarmed by rowdy students all waiting for their busses, I felt anxious to begin my first day of service. With my backpack over my shoulders, I blended in pretty well in a sea of highschoolers. It was a little overwhelming at first, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to connect with the students. My anxieties eased however when I walked into the classroom saw how happy most of the students were to be there, and singing along "one potato, two potato, three potato four..." Throughout my time being there, I observed the interactions between students, teachers, other volunteers, and myself. Works by Poe, Mitsuye Yamada, and Theodore Roethke illuminate various types of human interaction, and reveal the complexities of our inner most feelings.

I could imagine that attending a big high school in the city of a foreign country would be overwhelming for a lot of the refugee students. Although there are many upsides to being here, the sad reality is that most of these kids have probably already experienced some type of discrimination, like the speaker in "Cincinnati." People can really do harm not only by their physical actions, such like the man who spits in the speaker's face, but with their words. Words can hurt just as much as physical pain. The speaker is content at the beginning of the poem with "freedom at last" (1),  however,  her mood shifts to that of sadness when she receives derogatory insults from "hissing voice" (10) and humiliation of being spat in the face. The speaker doesn't say anything to the man, she just tries to wipe the spittle and her tears from her cheek. Even though she is in a city where "no one knew" her, the man knew that she was Japanese, and saw her as the enemy. This poem is sadly still relevant today. Even if the Japanese are no longer at large treated as the enemy, people continue judge others based on where they come from.  I was more aware of avoiding stereotypes and generalizations. Many of the girls I worked with wore Hjabs as a part of their religion. I have seen in public before, other people stare down Muslim families, probably making unfair assumptions. The girls were safe from this in our group, however, like the speaker of "Cincinnati" they are living in a big city where they are vulnerable and could possibly face judgment and hissing voices.

There is much ambiguity in viewing the interaction between a father and son in Theodore Roethke's poem "My Papa's Waltz." It seems like a happy memory, with his father and him dancing around and annoying the mother by knocking over pans. We can also see an underlying sadness, as he mentions the stench of alcohol on his father, and his battered knuckle. It is unclear what kind of relationship the son had with his father. He seems to admire him and depict him as masculine and powerful. The speaker also seems to feel some amount of anxiety as he "hung on like death" (3). The son worries about the inevitability of losing his father, as death is a natural part of human life. It is hard to come to terms with it. Roethke uses an unusual mix of violent words with a happy memory, and creates a more ambitious relationship between the father and the son.

People often say one thing but are thinking another. Poe's story delves into the deep dark desires of its narrator, Montressor. Through his manipulations, he lures the ironically named Fortunato into a trap. The "oh so fortunate one" is naive, and also conveniently enough for Montressor, not very sober and cannot detect his "friend's" ulterior motives. For example, Fortunato really believes that Montressor is considering Luchesi, instead of him to taste the Amontillado. The reader can see however that Luchesi is just a distractor, a tool of manipulation for the narrator to use. I, like many other reader's of Poe's fiction, was both disturbed and intrigued. What was most disturbing to me was the adrenaline and intense euphoria felt by the sociopathic narrator when locking the poor fool under layers of concrete. Montressor really isn't the type of guy you'd want to piss off. He is no Dexter, where you can kind of see justification in his heinous crimes, however, Poe still managed to stir up my morbid curiosity whether it be by his chilling imagery of the catacombs or the sheer deranged mindset of his narrator. Most interestingly, Montressor does briefly snap out of his killer-mode when his "heart grew sick" but he quickly draws back blaming it on the "dampness of the catacombs" (Poe, 1066). After this tinge of guilt cracked through, I wondered if our narrator would ever come to regret his act....

When I exited the school, I was exhausted from the heat and the two hours spent trying to explain addition and subtraction negative numbers. Many of the students were polite and thankful to us volunteers. The boy I was tutoring said "It was nice meeting you" after the time was over. On their way out, they had to shake hands with each volunteer and actually say "thank you." I gave some of them high-fives as well. I realized how important it is to them to have someone there to help with the daily challenges of adjusting whether it be the new language or just feeling like a face in a crowd. We are there to help them feel cared about, and to help create a safe and accepting environment. Being aware of how we communicate, through body language or our word choices is very important when interacting with others, especially of different backgrounds.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautifully written. Well done. Your story envolks deep feelings of empathy. It brought tears to my eyes.