Ask Reacher Anything

16 Aug 2017 07:11 #297643 by Lykeios
Lykeios replied the topic: Ask Reacher Anything
What do you count as your greatest achievement in life?

"Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." -Zhuangzi
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17 Aug 2017 06:19 - 17 Aug 2017 06:34 #297905 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Ask Reacher Anything

Forgive me for taking the better part of a day to reply. I wanted to give this some thought. A number of things drifted through my mind, but I wanted to think critically about the question and the considered accomplishment before settling. In the process, I realized that all significant accomplishments in my life were actually a confluence of efforts and happenstances that resulted in some general net system positive. It was quite humbling as well, because I am a person who prides himself on independence and personal responsibility. While the validity of the latter is something up for debate, the former is not. Every event is to some extent dependent upon an unfathomable number of contributing factors that have nothing to do with my sphere of influence. So thank you for helping me pin-prick my head before I went down some road of nostalgic self-congratulation.

I did settle on something, though, after all. It took until this evening for me to really understand why.

The greatest accomplishment of my life? I wrote a one-page letter and called a guy back once.

Let me explain.

While abroad, I sometimes work with interpreters. They work with us for a myriad of reasons ranging from noble to purely practical - why does anyone do any job, really? Their motivations run the full spectrum just like any other paid work. One thing I always give them, though, is that they willingly share in our assumed degree of fatal risk. Not as merely a professional pursuit, but one that will follow them for the rest of their long or short lives. We redeploy home - these folks continue to live well within the reach of the adverse party once we leave.

I had the privilege to work with one particularly great man and interpreter who I will call Neo. Most interpreters take on some nom de guerre pseudonym to protect themselves, and my boy was no different. We bonded well during out time together, and depended upon one another in a symbiotic relationship that resulted in a great friendship. I looked to him to help me see and interface with the world, and he looked to the strength I brought to help shape the world in a positive way. I put a lot of faith in him.

When my time came to leave, he asked that if I felt he deserved it, I write a letter of reference for him. When I pointed out that he already had a good paying job, he replied that it would be addressed to U.S. immigration, not a company - he would be attempting to claim asylum. The political situation was shifting and all the interpreter contracts held by the United States would at some point transfer over to his government's books. I agreed, wrote his yahoo e-mail account address down on a sweaty piece of Rite in the Rain paper, and went on with my life.

Re-deployment is a milieu of excited anticipation, guarded hope, and frantic activity. Fresh faces tag in with weary ones, and a lot of equipment shifts around. Life becomes very centric to the science of gear packing, and many other things - security included - start to fall to second and third priority. As I neared my own departure, Neo's request fell further and further down my list. I finally combined remembrance, time, and effort to sit down for an hour and click out a letter talking about the experiences Neo and I shared. That was the day before I left. I printed, signed, scanned, and mailed the thing back to Neo with an email and phone number listed in case they needed to ask me questions. Then I flew home and began the process of moving on with life. Six months or so later over lunch, I found myself staring at an unfamiliar number and a voicemail on my phone.

"Hi, I'm X calling from the office of Y about an interpreter who claims to have worked with you. Please call this number at your convenience..." I wadded up my sandwich wrapper, checked my watch, and decided I had enough time to at least give this guy a try before diving back into work. The following day I was leaving for some training and would be gone for a month or so. Then I'd probably just forget about the whole thing.

The man I spoke to epitomized the sleepy bureaucrat. He asked a battery of scripted questions, made no pretense of caring either way, took some notes, and thanked me for my time. Yeah, there's some time I won't be seeing back. Another six months or so pass by, and I forgot the conversation entirely.

"Hello, Sir. This is Neo. How are you?"

I blinked a few times. "Oh hey, brother. Everything going okay?"

"Fine, sir. Thank you. Where are you these days?"

"Oh, I'm hanging out in Seattle."

That was true. I was doing a bit of training in the Washington State area.

"My request for asylum has been accepted."

I congratulated him, both for his asylum request and that he and his wife were expecting their first child. I was sincerely happy for my friend. We chatted a bit, I wished him the best with everything, and went on my way. A few more months pass.

"Hello, sir. This is Neo."
"Oh hey, man. How's it going?"
"I am in Seattle. "
"They asked me where I wanted to live, so I live in Seattle now. Do you want to meet sometime? I have good news."
"I don't live in Seattle, Neo. What are you on about?"
He explained that while his asylum papers navigated the web of American bureaucracy, the contract hand-off finally happened. Interpreters began disappearing within days. In near-panic, he sent his pregnant wife across the border to live with extended family. He hazarded staying near his family home just long enough to get whatever asylum confirmation he needed, and fled before he was taken.

When he called that day, it was to let me know that his wife had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl in Seattle.

"Where are you now, sir?"
"I am over in North Carolina."
"Should I move there?"
"No...why would..."
"You saved my life, sir. My wife's. My daughter's life."
Always so damned matter of fact...
"No. No, no...that was just a letter. That was nothing."
"No, it really helped. That reference made the difference."

The air had been sucked out of the room and I was in tears.

It's been years since that phone call now. I get photos of Neo's family - it has gotten larger since he arrived in Seattle.

Usually when he calls its for advice of some kind - what sort of work he should be seeking...what I think about night school...what I think he should do for the FBI now that he has his citizenship and degree. He has done so much with so little. It still floors me to put myself in his shoes, even now.

To think that I played a role in that...I am humbled. I do not claim it as my accomplishment, just one that I played a part in. If that was the only thing I ever did, I could hang my hat on that alone. I don't mind being a footnote in someone else's beautiful, sacred tale.

The thing that really sticks out to me about it all is that my involvement was so...ordinary. Any literate human being could've done exactly what I did, if they just decided to take the time to be a decent person for an hour. It was no feat of strength, skill, courage, or commitment. It was just normal, everyday decency. I could have been too busy to be bothered, or just let things erode until apathy took its toll. When I initially refused to believe that my letter played even a small part in Neo's story, it was because I was afraid he was right. That something so innocuous and small it almost wasn't worth my time had such a massive impact on his family's future.

For me, the implications were huge. Small, day-to-day decency is something many of us - myself included - overlook as making a difference. Probably because those small kindnesses don't even register as radar blips in building our own personal narratives. Who cares about the interaction with the girl at the register? Or writing a letter of reference? Or writing an encouraging note to someone on Sarahah? I can't post those things on my Facebook timeline, write them in my autobiography, or carve them in my headstone. The epic, once-in-a-lifetime adventure struggle we hope comes our way seldom actually does. Small acts of human decency are where life's real struggles begin and end.

For the lessons I learned and the impact I was lucky enough to have and understand...that is my greatest achievement in life.

Thank you for the question, Lykeios. I have to go make a phone call...

"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away"
Last Edit: 17 Aug 2017 06:34 by Reacher.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Karn, Lykeios, SamThift, Astera, Manami

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17 Aug 2017 06:40 #297912 by Reacher
Reacher replied the topic: Ask Reacher Anything
That was a good one.

Thanks again.

"Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away"

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17 Aug 2017 07:44 #297917 by Lykeios
Lykeios replied the topic: Ask Reacher Anything
You, sir, are an excellent human being and someone I am proud to call brother (which isn't a word I often use) and friend (or at the very least, a close acquaintance, haha. I never presume someone is my friend in case they don't count me as one of theirs.)

That was a wonderful story (and I mean story not in a sense of it being fictional, of course). Excuse me for a moment while I find a box of tissues...

So. New question (possibly another hard one): when was the happiest you've ever been and why were you so happy?

"Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." -Zhuangzi
The following user(s) said Thank You: Reacher

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