Sweet and Sour; Funny and Dour
October 28, 2008
I am using initials now because my employer is terrified I will bring some poor student to public notice; I am terrified I will get fired before I retire in three months.
C and D are a married couple in their fifties. D had worked for the post office, been laid off, and is looking for another job. He was hoping that I would help him with his Internet skills so he can find and apply for jobs online.
F is an Iranian woman in her fifties. Although she has lived in the United States for a number of years, her English is not very good. She asked me to find her a tutor to help with her English. She is sure she can get a better job if she can read, write, and speak English better. I am working on finding a tutor for her, though it’s not really part of my job.
R is retired after working on a ground job for an airline. Although he told me he owned two computers, a desktop and a laptop, within a few minutes of the class, I could see that his computer skills were close to nil. His demeanor was rather dour and serious, which I attributed to his anxiety about computers (a common characteristic of students in my classes). I am usually pretty good at getting anxious students to relax. One of my tools for doing so is using a bit of comedy to get students to relax about their fear and embarrassment of computers and to convey points about how computers work and don’t work very well (which is one of my points).There are days when this technique works well. On this day, things headed in a different direction.
To break the ice and get the class warmed up, I had been talking a little bit about children and grandchildren, telling a joke or two about my granddaughter (the famous Random Granddaughter-RG as I call her on my blog). C and D told me that they had several adult children and several grandchildren. R said he had one adult son.
Suddenly R said with some force, “It’s been 105 days. It has not gotten any easier at all.”
I looked at him inquiringly.
“It’s been 105 days since my grandson drowned. He was five years old. He was on a boat with his father on a fishing trip. They weren’t watching him closely enough. I don’t know how I will ever get over it.”
Awkwardly, I expressed my condolences.
R continued, “My no-good son caused his my grandson’s death” A heavy pall hung over the room where I was teaching. I felt as if I had just read a tragic memoir, conveyed in a few minutes of conversation.
D (the husband of the married couple) said, “Our son was 15 days old when he died. He was born with a birth defect. I have not gotten over it, either.”
I mentioned that the death of my cousin Joanna from breast cancer, who had become a millionaire from learning Chinese, had affected me rather strongly. I was on a grim wave-length with R. He told us that his wife had been Chinese. “She died of lung cancer. She had never smoked a day in her life. Actually, she had breast cancer. At first they thought the treatment was successful, but the cancer went to her lungs, so that was what she died of. ”
As Iran had come up during the class because F is from Iran, C and D mentioned that a close friend of theirs (no longer alive) had been a tutor to the children of the Shah of Iran. F, the student from Iran, indicated that that the Shah of Iran was not a favorite topic of hers. As she is very polite, and her English is not very good, she did not elaborate.
Despite the general atmosphere of being at a United Nations sponsored wake, I did actually get on with doing some computer instruction, which went quite well. However, I taught in a very sober and subdued manner, my usual comedic approach completely put to rest for the remainder of the class.
As we reached the end of the class, R had a last few words for me. He told me that he was not very well, either. His lungs are failing (though his ailment is different than the lung cancer that killed his wife). He provided a technical explanation of his illness, which I forget. I think my capacity for taking in depressing information had reached its limit.
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