Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 22, 2012

Lessons in sincerity transcend the confusion of any language barrier

Cars in Japan have right-side steering, but the guy who met me at the Nagoya Airport after I had spent eight days there in 1996 didn’t let me drive. I had been traveling with participants of the Relay Symposium on Forest Restoration on Shinkoku Island and taking the pilgrim’s route from Tokushima to Kochi and Ehime before catching a train in Kagawa to an airport where I flew back to Nagoya.

An older gentleman I met in the Takamatsu Airport showed me the small stones he had gathered during his pilgrimage through the 88 Buddhist temples on Shinkoku Island. I didn’t understand a word he said, but I understood the concept of “Show and Tell,” and I knew he was trying to help me understand the circumstances of each stone he collected.

I must have seen something in Kagawa, because the fellow who picked me up at the Nagoya Airport had received a voice mail message from someone who was upset, and, in English, he lamented the fact that he couldn’t do anything about it on Friday evening. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I thought the message was about me.

My friend said he couldn’t deal with the issue until Monday and he hated to receive a message like that because it would be on his mind through the weekend. I knew exactly what he meant. I would much prefer dealing with any issue at the moment rather than having to wait a few days to stew it over.

I knew a few words and phrases in Japanese, but I didn’t know enough to understand what the problem was. The fellow I was traveling with assured me it was a small matter, but I thought the worse. I didn’t want to reflect poorly on my sponsor. I knew I had done some stupid things while I was there, but the whole 12-day experience was such a spiritually enlightening event that I didn’t want to be negative in any way.

Last weekend, I was about as busy as a reporter can be. I started out my day on Saturday early, writing my “Our Towns” column for Sunday’s paper, before I dashed off to provide “music to register by” for the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s at the Mercer Mall. After about 90 minutes of doing that, I dashed out of the mall and drove to the Bland County Festival of Leaves to visit with friends, hear some great music and scribble a few notes so I could write a story about that.

After I left Bland, Va., I made a beeline back to the Mercer County 4-H Camp to visit people, grab a few interviews and get a general feel for the inaugural Mercer County Heritage Festival. From what I could tell, it was well received and well attended. I wrote about all of that stuff, but also went to Peel Chestnut Mountain to visit Russell and Pat Synan at the 19th Annual Pumpkin Festival, and I bounced back to Princeton to watch a Virginia Paving crew demolish Thorn School. I walked the halls of that school a time or two and interviewed JoAnna Fredeking there when the school closed in 2000.

At some point during that busy afternoon as I was trying to write about all of those things, Barbara Lewis, our weekend obituary clerk, said, “I’m sorry Bill,” and transferred a call to me. The caller identified himself as a pastor, but he spoke faster than I could listen and I didn’t catch his name. He asked me if the newspaper wanted to tell his side of a story that appeared in Saturday’s online edition. I guess me answering, “What?” was his signal to tell me his story and with that, he began.

The story he called about concerned a political rally in St. Louis, Mo., where the reporter wrote about a lone abortion protester sitting in a tree. Before he could get into too much detail as to why he was sitting in a tree, or even to tell me what side of the abortion debate he was on, I stopped him, said we were a small daily newspaper that serves southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. I told him that we post some Associated Press stories on our free website and I thought that was probably one of those. During my explanation, he interrupted me to say the story was in our paper, and he wanted to respond. I encouraged him to contact the AP.

As our conversation was about to conclude, he said: “Well, God bless you,” in what I took to be a reluctant voice. I responded as I always do: “God has richly blessed me already, and I thank Him for those blessings every day.” There was a pause, and the pastor continued with a much more pleasant tone of voice. “Thank you for your help,” he said. “You’re welcome,” I responded.

The gentleman I met in the Takamatsu Airport didn’t need to understand English to see the sincerity in my expression as I listened to the story behind the stones he carried. People don’t have to speak the same language to understand sincerity. In any language, sincerity is a powerful way to communicate.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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