One of my favorite walking routes takes me near the neighborhood elementary school. Last week, as I passed a young girl, I heard her question (in Japanese), “An English person?” I turned and explained that while I spoke English, I was American. Turns out that I was the first foreign person she’d had a chance to talk to “up close and personal.” We chatted for a few more minutes and I continued on my way. While our entire talk had been in Japanese, I got a “thank you!” in English as I moved on.
A few days later, I saw the same girl with a friend. She greeted me, and the friend added, “Oh, the English person.” This time, Rie explained to her friend that I spoke English but was American. I graduated from “an English person” to “the English person” and “the girl” became Rie.
Today, I ran into Rie again, this time with a small group of friends at the neighborhood park. She must have been talking about our meeting because I was greeted with “Hello, English Auntie!” (In Japanese, this doesn’t sound nearly as odd as it does in translation.) It’s another promotion on the relationship scale.
I often hear an analogy that compares effects of meetings like this to ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond. I’ve never found that analogy very satisfying because it seems quite one sided. If I’m the pebble, the implication is that my meeting Rie will affect her life is some as yet unknown way. But, the pebble just sinks to the bottom of the pond, suggesting that my life remains unchanged.
I prefer the analogy of gold bars and silver bars. If you touch one to the other, microscopic bits of gold transfer to the silver bar, and microscopic bits of silver transfer to the gold. Even though the bars look the same, they are changed forever by the contact.
It may be vanity that I prefer to think of myself as a bar of precious metal than as a wet rock, but I like this image. The changes may be small, and perhaps not consciously noticed, but we’re still changed by each new encounter.