I’m sitting in the Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris on my way to Malta for a week (look it up. Grin).
Being on a trip like this always gets me thinking about all I learn just being in “not America.”
How we got to Malta is a little bit of a story in and of itself, but, in a rare moment of self-editing I will not tell it here, because if I do I will never get to the reason I sat down to type this out with my thumbs in the first place.
Suffice it to say it had a lot to do with never having met anyone who had been to Malta. As my Note will hopefully emphasize, that is reason enough to go almost anywhere.
Now, the Note I sat down to write.
Years ago I hired a former student to be a Lecturer in my program.
I was thrilled she accepted the position (I firmly believe the strength of a program can be measured by how many former students you would love to bring back to teach).
She was an amazingly gifted student (and has gone on to become one of the finest Interpreters, and in all honesty, one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to know).
As a student she had one quirk that caught me off guard. One day in class she told me that she would never work in VRS interpreting.
I agree! because my ADHD CANNOT abide a cubicle.
That was not her reason.
She did not want to work in a VRS setting because “ASL from East of the Mississippi scared her.” It scared her BAD.
I couldn’t let that lie now could I.
Quite literally I picked up my cellphone and called Anne Leahy in Washington D.C. I said, “Anne I’m sending you someone you need to teach how to walk on hot coals, she has all the skills but she doesn’t know how tough her feet are” (not the last time I’ve sent Anne someone with skills o’ plenty and let her take care of the confidence part).
Anne brought out the best in her and sent me back an amazingly well rounded interpreter.
She certified before she graduated and charged out into the world to get some real experience.
A few years later I got approval to hire a Lecturer for my program.
When my former student applied I was thrilled! She was as amazing a teacher as she was at everything else.
The next summer I was invited to CIT in Puerto Rico and I asked my former student, now colleague, if she would like to go as well.
She was nervous.
“I’ve never been out of the country,” she said.
“And you still won’t,” I replied, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States. They use the dollar and have Walmart’s and stuff. You don’t even need a passport” (which is good because she didn’t have one).
She felt better. Somewhat. I mean when you think about it Puerto Rico is waaaay east of the Mississippi.
So. Off we went.
When we landed I dropped her off at her hotel and checked into mine then I picked her up and we made plans for the first day of the conference in the lobby of my hotel. When we finished I suggested we get something to eat.
Now, I have a friend who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I asked her what is “not to be missed” as far as local food.
“Mofongo,” she said.
So we walked over to the concierge and asked if there was a place near the hotel where we could get Mofongo.
“Yes!” she said, “there is a great place within walking distance.”
At that moment felt a hand in the middle of my chest and my former student, now university colleague, pushed me backwards, leaned into the the concierge and asked, “have you ever actually eaten Mofongo? I mean, what’s it like?”
The concierge looked at her kindly and said, “that is kind of like me asking if you’ve ever eaten a turkey dinner. Yes, it’s the national dish.”
I reached forward and gently took a hold of her ponytail and pulled her backward as her ear passed my mouth I whispered, “we need to talk.”
I got the address for the restaurant from the concierge and we started walking toward it.
“Where to begin?” I thought. I cleared my throat and said, “my father once told me if you haven’t had a parasite at least once in your life you have not eaten enough interesting things.”
She stopped and looked at me just as you are imagining she looked at me and said, “ok that’s crazy.”
“Maybe,” I replied, “but here is what is going to happen tonight. You have a per diem for meals from the university. We are going to this restaurant and ordering Mofongo and you are going to try it. If you legit don’t like it I will spend my own money to buy you a Subway sandwich. Deal?”
“Deal,” she sighed. And off we went.
For anyone who doesn’t know Mofongo, it is mashed plantains fried crispy and smothered in stewed meat. It. Is. Fantastic.
She loved it. She ordered it everywhere we went for the rest of our time in Puerto Rico.
While we were sitting at that very nice cafe in San Juan, eating delicious food, I asked her a question that had been elbowing its way to the front of my mind ever since I first asked her if she wanted to go to CIT.
“You don’t have a passport?”
“No,” she replied, “never needed one.”
“You should get one.”
“Why?” she asked, “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
“You need a passport,” I explained, “for the same reason that I think golf would be a much more interesting game if they just added a penalty box. They don’t have to change the rules at all-just add a penalty box. The fact it is there will inspire its use.”
She looked at me puzzled. It was not the first time and has not been the last.
“Think,” I explained, “you’re not planning on going anywhere and maybe it’s because you don’t have a passport, but, if you had a passport you would be inspired to use it!”
“I don’t know…” but she was thinking about it.
“Look at you right now. You’re stretching your experiences. You are in your twenties, you have a job that gives you some disposable income, you will never be this mobile, this free in your life.” I made eye-contact. “Get a passport.”
And she did.
Since that meal of Mofongo in Puerto Rico she has been all over the world. She has been to Russia, Thailand, and more countries in Europe and South America than I could possibly remember. She is no longer a Lecturer at my program, she has gone on to do phenomenal work in every area to which she sets her hand. And she has used her passport (I actually called her to see if she could cover some classes for me for during this trip and she was in Lisbon).
The point is she will tell you that each one of these trips has made her a better interpreter. Each has added to her knowledge base. Each one has expanded her cultural awareness and expanded her mind to the diversity of ideas. She has a better understanding that I do of what makes it easier and harder to navigate in a culture that is not your own using a language that is not your own.
She was already awesome and these experiences made her better.
It’s Awesome Gain.
So, here I am now I’m sitting in a cafe called Xemxija on the island of Malta. I took my own advice.
Why Malta? Do you know anyone who has been to Malta. Now you do.
What do you know about Malta?
Well now you know about this^^. This is the oldest know human manipulated edifice on earth. It is literally the first stone they know of on the planet that someone, or more likely, some group of people said, “we should pick this stone up from here and place it, in a very specific way, right there.”
It’s the pillar of the Skorba Temple. It’s older than Stonehenge and predates the pyramids by thousands of years.
This is the only painting Caravaggio ever signed. It’s here on Malta (there are actually two other Caravaggio paintings on Malta).
From what I can see the ADA has not made its way to Malta, but I’ll ask these folks about it tonight.
In Thornton Wilder’s famous play ‘Our Town’ Mrs. Gibbs pines for the experience of going to – ”a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to”
Every interpreter should pine for that same experience. It will make you a better interpreter and a more well rounded person.
Get a passport.No matter your age or place in life-get a passport and let it inspire you.
p.s. Before I published this I sent it to the interpreter it is about. She asked me to quote her:
“Meeting Dale Boam changed the trajectory of my life. He was the first person to see the light inside me and demand that I stop playing small. I never knew that life outside of the comfort zone would be so worth it.”
Actual conversation with my boss in 1998, when I asked to adjust my work schedule to take classes to complete my BA:
Uncle Dale: Because i’m going to law school.
B: Why? You are a great interpreter, you have a good job and do you realize that when you graduate you will be 33-years-old?
UD: I will be 33-years-old anyway. I might as well be 33-years-old and a lawyer.
B: But you should have done that a long time ago. You’ve made your decisions in life.
UD: Know what? I can still make decisions. In fact here is a decision, I quit.
One of the best decisions I ever made.
Between Christmas and New Years I like to repost the most “popular” posts from the year.
This year that is an odd prospect because, as many of you know, I had some traumatic life events that caused some of my posts to be shared by this wonderful, loving community many more times than others. These posts were shared as much for the emotion as the content.
That gives me pause to think about what I mean when I say “popular.”
That is usually just a calculation of the most views. But, as I said, this year I cannot rely on the most viewed being the most helpful.
So I came to a decision. In this post I will include a few of those more emotionally powerful posts that may have skewed the numbers as far as views and start with the most viewed posts that are more directed at the experience of the interpreter and skill development tomorrow.
Thank you. Thank you all for the love you’ve shown this year for both me and my family.
1. Real Talk With Aunt SuperTam
2. An Open Letter to Lin-Manuel Miranda.
3. This is Where You Are.
Love to you all!
A professional expects payment. A volunteer expects gratitude.
Either may get both, but no one should ever expect both!
When a Doctor’s Office tells a Deaf person, “you have to bring your own interpreter,” I just want to ask the name of the wheelchair user they required to build that wheelchair-ramp in front of their building.
If you did not know it by now reading this blog, I married an incredible and profound person.
Many people have asked me to share the talk my wife gave at my son Harrison’s funeral.
PLEASE DON’T STOP READING! This is an uncomfortable topic, but we need to accept this discomfit because it is literally about life and death.
I am sharing only part of her longer remarks because it is vitally important. You can find the full transcript on my Facebook timeline.
I am happy that it touched so many people and hopefully opened up some much needed dialog on the topics of both mental illness and suicide.
Please remember that these are the words she spoke over my son’s coffin, in a room with about 600 people watching and listening. I say that not only as a kind of trigger warning, and as a way of letting you know the power and strength possible in the human spirit, but also to highlight the sacred nature of her words.
Please share this. Share her full remarks. Share them with people you love or people you just met, but share this message.
Excerpts of remarks given on July 28, 2018, at the funeral of Harrison T Boam by his mother Tammis R Boam.
“…Harrison asked me to say it like it is today. So, we are going to have what I’m calling Real Talk with SuperTam, (because that’s my nickname).
Harrison killed himself. Very few people want to say that. People don’t want to talk about it. People do want to talk about it but they don’t know how. It’s an unbearably painful topic. People keep telling Dale and myself that we are so brave to talk openly about what Harrison did. We never considered any other option. It didn’t feel brave to either one of us, just truthful. When a person dies of heart disease or cancer or pneumonia, we all grieve, but we don’t fear talking about why they died. Mental illness carries a heavy stigma in our society and I believe we share an obligation to have more productive and proactive conversations about a really scary and difficult topic. Mental illness is physical illness. It happens in the brain. Just like MS or Parkinson’s disease; it can be a chemical imbalance, a failure of synapses to connect properly, or an underdeveloped portion of the brain that limits its proper function. It is not different than any other illness. But it is sooo taboo. When the term ‘Mental Illness’ is mentioned, people think in extremes; severe debilitation, psychosis, the inability to work or leave the house, erratic behavior, frightening delusions – scary, scary words, yet mental illness usually doesn’t look like that. It’s depression – from mild to severe, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, Anorexia, Post Partum Depression, Autism Spectrum – it can be an illness or a disorder or a dysfunction. Everyone in this room knows someone who deals with a mental illness every single day. It is often silent and very subversive, and people can feel isolated or hopeless.
Nearly every single person that I talked to, or Dale, or my parents or in-laws or our friends knows someone who has had suicide effect their family. The heartbreaking thing is that suicide is on the rise amongst our youth. Our children are dying and we are afraid to talk about it because it is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for me to stand here today and talk about it.
But I am willing to open the conversation. I am willing to answer questions. I will listen to fears and pains, and I will try to offer comfort. I know I’m not the only one willing to do this, but I think one of the problems we collectively suffer from is fear.
Dale and I always try to teach our kids that the devil dwells in darkness and the gospel spreads light. So they should base their decisions on whether or not they have to hide what they do in darkness or if they can do it openly in the light. This is a good foundation for teaching decision-making. However, people often hide in darkness. Not because they are dark themselves, but because they are afraid. We need to learn how to recognize people who are hiding. We must practice seeing what people in pain look like. We need to commit to ourselves that we will be the person. The one who offers succor, in whatever form that takes. We need to ask questions and develop relationships that allow people to open up and be unafraid… The Lord is asking us to be is hands and help his children. We need to seek the one, and we also need to be the one. Be the one who looks. Be the one who asks. Be the one who sees. We have the power to heal.
Our family has been terribly, irrevocably wounded and changed. We are in agony. But we are being ministered to, every second of every day. Because of that, we are already beginning to heal. We have a long road ahead and we accept that, because we do not walk that road alone. The Savior walks that road with us. And so do every single one of you every time you do something that is motivated by love. The road that we walk, the same road you walk, is the path of the gospel. It guides us towards our Father in Heaven…
He did kill himself, but he also died because he suffered from an illness. We do not need to be ashamed of that or hide that fact. Harrison made a choice I wish he had not. He took an action he can’t take back. I know he would if he could. I know he didn’t mean to do this. But we are the ones who are left with the results of his actions. What do we do with that? Do we live within the atonement of Christ? Do we refuse to let fear keep us from speaking when speaking is necessary? Do we reach out, see a person, offer love and provide acceptance? Do we hide in the darkness, or do we shine in the light? I know what Harrison would have us do, and I know what the Lord would have us do.
Harrison, I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”