Only Connect

Always grateful to take a walk with this good boy, and for the land we live on, our connection to it and to each other.

This morning I finally tried out the new vacuum I bought myself for Christmas, and it didn’t work. I did all the troubleshooting steps, but each time I started it the brush roll spun for about three seconds before stopping with its red light on. A bit annoyed, I mean I was finally ready to vacuum and the sun was blazing so there was plenty of power to run a 1300 watt appliance for awhile, I called Shark tech support. An hour later I had a new vacuum on the way after Yokine declared it was “clearly defective.”

He determined this through an app that let him use my phone camera to see what the problem was. I had tried it out a dozen times with various adjustments, and each time it took only a couple of seconds before the brush roll jammed. While Yokine was watching, naturally, the vacuum ran smoothly across the rug, no jam, no red light. “You’re magic!” I cried, and he laughed. We’d already gotten chummy after I inquired about his name, which I hadn’t understood the first time he said it.

“It’s a traditional Japanese name,” he said. “You… are you Japanese?” He didn’t sound Japanese. “No, Jamaican,” he said laughing. “I guess my mother just heard it and liked it.” As if it weren’t magic enough that I was talking with a vacuum technician in Kingston who could see my floor dirt. Well, then I put back on a piece I’d taken off, and the red light came on again. “I’m not magic,” he said a bit dejectedly.

I could have been frustrated at ‘wasting’ an hour of my morning when I had plenty of other things on my to-do list, including vacuuming the house which now isn’t gonna happen for another week. I’m grateful I was able to choose to be pleasant and treat him like a human being who had to work on Christmas Eve, instead of gripe self-righteously as I might have done some time ago. I asked him about Christmas in Jamaica, and how they’re doing with Covid, and was glad to hear that it’s “not so bad as in some other countries. We all did what our leader told us to do,” he said. Ha! Then we talked about US presidents a little bit, and had some more good laughs.

It was kind of hard to hang up when the call was over. We wished each other Merry Christmas, and told each other to stay safe and well. I’m grateful for the sense of genuine connection I felt with this stranger thousands of miles away in the tropics on this single-digit morning here, and for the technology that enabled our cross-cultural communication. I’m grateful for my friend Marion, whose poem came to mind in a surge of emotion as Yokine and I shared well-wishes before disconnecting; I wanted to tell him “I love you.” I felt it but I didn’t say it like Marion did.

Only Connect” – E.M. Forster

A glass of wine in bed and Wendell Berry
on my lap.  But I answer, and
it’s Lamar, calling about protection
for my credit card.  “You can protect
your credit, ma’am, for just 70 cents
per hundred dollars.  Can I sign you up?”
I like his young, black voice.  As though
it’s a possibility, I calculate
on my bookmark, quickly.  “I can’t
afford to be protected.  You know?”
Lamar clears his throat.  In the brief silence,
I ask, “Do you have credit card protection?”
He half laughs.  “No credit card.”
We both laugh.  “Hey,” I say. “Wendell
Berry doesn’t have one, either.”
“Yeah?” he says.  “Is that your dog?”
“Nooo!  That’s a very good writer!”
We laugh longer this time.
“Well … Thanks for your time. … Uh,
if you should want details on credit protection…”
“You take care of yourself, Lamar.  I love you.”
“Yeah, Ma’am.  Thanks. You, too.”
I hang up, aghast.  “I love you,”
I hear myself say!  I look down.
A line of Wendell Berry looks back:
“That I may have spoken well at times
is not natural.  A wonder is what it is.”

7 thoughts on “Only Connect

  1. Great story! I know exactly how that feels to be kind and generous with words when you don’t feel that way and in the end you’re glad you spoke well. To laugh with a stranger can be magical. They say people who talk to strangers are happier than other people. I suspect talking would have to be done kindly for this to be true. Love you

    Sent from my iPhone


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