The irony isn’t lost on me. I now do temporary work for a company that makes bridges. “Good afternoon, T.Y. Lin. One moment, I’ll connect you.”
T.Y. Lin is a civil and structural engineering firm that did the engineering behind the Rio Dulce bridge, overseen by Chuck Simon who personally flew down to Guatemala when a crack was reported in the bridge. He was met with helicopters and flown out to Rio Dulce. The bridge still stands and it’s the landmark of the Department of Izabal where I was born and where my grandmother’s mother lived, near Gualán. I couldn’t have chosen better, except I trusted the world to do it for me. Here, put me where you will.
I now connect people all day. Phones rings, the elevator door slides open, someones laughs at their desk, the small fan hums and in each office an engineer pores over formulas, blueprints and simulations on computer screens. Heels click on the cement floors and walk past me, and I sit in the middle of this orchestra of activity. It’s comforting, it reminds me of an old place I know well.
In the great symphony of life, we all have important parts to play. While some people are best suited to be conductors or soloists, their contributions would be diminished considerably without the individual musicians that lend their artistry to the fullness of an orchestra… When we can be fully present in every job that we do, we bring the fullness of our bodies, minds and spirits to the moment. Our contribution is enhanced by the infusion of our talents and abilities, and when we give them willingly, they attract the right people and circumstances into our experience.
To connect people you have to come from a place of peace, to not only have it between the moments, but to be in the moment of that peace that is the underlying fabric. We know it’s there when the quiet sinks in, when we listen. In the quite lobby where my desk sits I learn to listen again, to experience time at a pace more granular and tangible than anything I’m used to or a context I’ve created around myself.
I remind myself I am temporary here and just smile at everyone that passes. But they stop and they make a point of learning my name, get to know me, ask me questions about my background. “Oh, you graduated from our alma mater!” “I have a good friend going to Guatemala for the first time, what do you recommend?” “How did we find YOU?” “Get out, you’re a journalist?!”
Engineers are quiet and pensive and waiting for social moments to reduce the awkwardness. I am “here to help with the transition” because their chief office manager, the Peruvian Carmen, is retiring after 50 years with the firm. On her last day, I help her clean her desk because she can’t bare to do it alone. I tell her I will be her hands and she can guide me. I am mindful, I am respectful. 50 years is a long time, it shows loyalty I’m not sure I have for anything. At least not yet. El tiempo lo dirá.
While delivering the mail Carmen introduces to the head Jefe in an office that sits right below the SF Bay Bridge. “Sit young lady, sit.” He is from Prague, tall, steel-gray features and lively eyes. He asks me:”What is the single biggest problem we have today?”
I answer immediately: “We don’t know how to tell stories, sir.”
He smiles, it is what he wanted to hear. He tells me about his stint in engineering school in Prague and how they didn’t have the option to learn writing. It was all numbers, courses like hard walls. He stares out beyond the bridge. Then turns back.
“All these kids typing on their cellphones, adults using Facebook who can’t even talk to each other, people and their emails. We can’t tell stories anymore, we’re always making these grocery lists of our lives to others!” He turns to me.
“Young lady, do you know how to edit? Can you write a good letter?”
“The best, sir.” Perhaps I should have been humbler. But I feel proud of myself because yesterday I wrote the best letter contesting my $100 parking ticket for parking in my own driveway.
“We’re not talking creative fiction, we’re talking using facts to tell a story.”
“Yes sir, I’m a journalist, that’s my job.”
He listens, his face somewhere between curiosity and suspicion. He comes from Eastern Europe, I need to give him a reason to trust me.
“I met a Guatemalan engineer when I first moved to Philadelphia. He was a very good engineer. He talked about his country all the time, not always good, but he told me this: ‘love your country, it is your root.'”
In two weeks, he told me, he would be back from vacation, and he would see how my letter writing fared. Will you be here in two weeks, he asked. I said, “I don’t know, does anyone?” He smiled and shook my hand.
I think of a song I grew up with that my mom would play on our beaten up boombox. “Yo No Olvido El Año Viejo” I don’t forget the old year, because it has left me many good things. It has not left me, it has carried me to a place of peace I had all along. I am grateful for all the people who have been that bridge for me, bending their backs to provide love, support and inspiration.