Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Connection, Unexpected

Something that has not surprised me as I've pursued this project is how much better I am at expressing myself through the written word, be it handwritten or even electronic, than I am in person. I envy people who pirouette beautifully through all kinds of happy, sad and sticky social situations with seeming ease while I trip over my tongue.

What has come as a surprise is how the written word can actually open up face-to-face communication. Case in point: recently I learned that my coworker L's husband is recovering from a stroke he suffered a few months ago. I sent L a card to let her know I was thinking about her and praying for her and her family.

A word about L ... she can be a bit overwhelming. Her loud voice, curious nature and raucous laugh can just about knock you down sometimes. I will admit there have been moments, when working with L on a project or participating in a work activity, when I have thought to myself, "Oh L, please be quiet. PLEASE ..."

L is also one of the most authentic people you'll ever meet. She's loudly, curiously and raucously--happy. And kind, and sweet, and generous. Which is why it broke my heart to hear about her husband and I wanted to reach out--but do so from behind the safety of the paper and pen.

Yesterday I heard a knock at my office door and turned to see L standing in the doorway, holding the card. "I ran across this last night," she said. "I know you sent it a while ago but there has been so much going on, and things have been piling up, but I wanted to say thank you."

In some ways she was still L--still as positive as she could be, telling me about the progress her husband had made and praising her children for how they had rallied around him. At the same time she was also a quieter, more fragile version of the person I usually see, as she talked about the reality of what she and her husband might face in the days ahead.

I was surprised to find myself moved to get up out of my chair and give her a hug--it was a moment of connection I wouldn't have ever seen coming, and it felt genuine. And good.

As L left my office, holding the card, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that written words had opened a door--one that I had, even subconsciously, assumed myself incapable or afraid of opening.

PITFALL OF THE PEN: Handwriting letters has revealed my dependency on spell check! When I went to write "possess" in a letter to my cousin M the other night, I found myself momentarily unable to remember how many "s" there were, and where. Because I couldn't just type--and let the computer suggest the correct spelling for me--I flipped my notebook over and scribbled different versions of the word until one looked right. Investigation about the use of spellcheck led me to Dr. Dennis Galletta and the interesting research he and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh are doing on the subject.

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