In the early 1970s, I worked at a computer company and became acquainted with a man named “Bob” who was friends with my boss. He was extremely talented in learning languages and spoke several fluently. He was a very sweet, funny, friendly man in his late 40s or early 50s. My boss told me that Bob would pick an obscure language and set out to learn it just because he wanted to.
My desk was right at the front, so I saw everyone who came in. We were constantly seeing people selling office supplies, and I had to tell them that our supplies were purchased at our main office and sent to us, so we couldn’t buy anything. I always felt sorry for them, but that was the way it was.
One day, a man came in speaking broken English. He introduced himself as Mr. Cornelissen. He looked very sad and downtrodden in a worn, ill-fitting suit. He was probably in his 40s, but looked old and tired.
Bob had been visiting my boss, and he heard Mr. Cornelissen talking to me. Bob asked the salesman a question in an unfamiliar language. The man perked up and answered him. They sat and talked for several minutes, and Mr. Cornelissen grew happier by the minute.
Later, Bob apologized to me for speaking in a language I didn’t understand, but I was happy that he’d spoken to Mr. Cornelissen and cheered him up. He explained that the man was from Holland, and Bob told him he was from there, too, as they chattered away in Dutch.
“Are you really from Holland?” I asked.
“Heck, no,” he said. “I’m as Irish as Paddy’s pig. But he needed to talk to someone from home, and it didn’t hurt him to think I was Dutch, too.”
He needed to talk to someone from home.
Those words have stayed with me through the years, and I was reminded of them several years later, when I was alone in another country. Running into somebody from my home state, Texas, lifted my spirits, too.
Sometimes, you just need to talk to somebody from home. Bob could have ignored Mr. Cornelissen, but he took the time to make him feel better, and maybe a little less homesick.
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10 thoughts on “Someone From Home”
I, too, get homesick. That’s when I pray. It’s good to talk with Someone from home.
Caring, compassion, and communication are wonderful, when someone is feeling alone. It sounds like Bob had these in abundant quantities. I think he’s wrong in claiming a positive value for lying, in this scenario (and most scenarios). It’s so easy for the liar to be unmasked. A native speaker can almost always identify the non-native speaker, either by sound, grammar, and word choice, or by cultural knowledge (What’s the name of that tower in Rotterdam, or the scenic canal in Amsterdam?). How likely is it that Mr. Cornelissen’s positive feelings about Bob will be enhanced, when he realizes that Bob is lying?
I also think lying is unnecessary. Bob’s big heart comes shining through in the story, and it doesn’t come from his being Dutch, or not. I think Mr. Cornelissen would have been more touched, and more interested, if Bob had said (in Dutch), “I love Dutch. I was so fascinated by the language, that I took the trouble to learn it as an adult. Please tell me more about your country, your city, your family, your life.” Authenticity is a much better companion for compassion than lying is.
Heroic Stories are valuable inspirations for us to live our lives better. While it doesn’t matter what Bob did, I hope the Heroic Stories readers will embrace meaningful truth, rather than a meaningless lie, in similar situations.
I find it unfortunate to dwell so much on the negative. I find what Bob did touching and from the heart – even if some might find some fault in the mechanics.
I’m curious, Leo. Why do you consider promoting telling the truth to be “focusing on the negative”, while advocating lying is a positive thing?
My comment contained multiple positive statements about Bob, caring, and compassion, as well as promoting honesty. Why are YOU focusing so much on the negative, by ignoring all the positive things in my message, and voicing only a negative characterization of my comment? It’s a bit ironic.
I, and lots of people who have commented on Heroic Stories over the last year, feel that the stories are a potential learning experience, and a chance for discussion. This includes some balance and consideration of questions raised by the stories. Perhaps you want only rainbows and unicorns, but I think that sort of whitewash doesn’t promote critical thinking, and isn’t interesting. It may be a factor in the fact that Heroic Stories hasn’t flourished to the extent that you hoped, according to some of your earlier messages.
Exactly where did I advocate lying as a positive thing? If I said that it’s not at all what I intended and I’ll clarify it, but I don’t believe I said that.
Your comment simply chose to focus primarily on a negative aspect of the story – the lying. I believe strongly that one of the issues in our community today is that we are much too quick to jump on and call out the negative, which serves to minimize the impact of the positive. Even this discussion is detracting from the positive aspects of the story. It’s those positive aspects – not fault finding – that is HeroicStories mission.
This happened well over 40 years ago, and I doubt Bob ever saw Mr. C. again, so he probably never realized that Bob wasn’t actually from Holland. I didn’t include this in the story, but Bob had spent time in Holland, maybe in the military, but I don’t remember. All I remember is Mr. C. visibly perking up, and walking out with a spring in his step……..and Bob’s big heart.
That’s awesome, Jodi. Thanks for the update. 🙂
I was 20, spending a year being an au-pair in Italy. I could talk to two year olds, do crossword puzzles, and even dream in Italian. And I was forgetting common English words!
I was not homesick for anything except my language. One day I went to the railroad station, saw an American soldier, and explained the situation to him. We spent an hour or so talking about his family and home town — guess he was homesick, too. We parted, both a little happier.
In 1985, I was on my way home from Saudi Arabia and stopped off in Germany for a few days. I was at a Gasthaus (inn) in Oberwesel when an elderly couple approached the desk to get a room. The main innkeeper had to run an errand in town and her daughter was manning the desk. The daughter did not speak a lot of English, so I offered assistance with my (somewhat limited) knowledge of German and was able to help the couple get settled. After showing the couple to their room, the daughter returned to the main entry and approached me where I was sitting looking out over the Rhine River. She thanked me for helping get the couple checked in and settled, then asked me where I had learned my English. I was totally flattered and had to keep from laughing as I explained that I was American and had studied German in High School and College and had been given the opportunity to work as a Tutor helping students who were having trouble with their Germain. I will always remember her compliment and love helping people whenever I can. I think Bob was the same way – whatever we can do to help make somebody feel more “at home”.
I really like this one. Sometimes it’s more important to seize the moment and make someone feel good for a while. It’s easy to be 100% perfect with hindsight, or from behind an anonymous keyboard.
The truth is rarely absolute, even if we wish it to be so.
This reminded me of when I find myself talking with the homeless on the streets. I don’t actively seek them out, but neither do I ignore them. Most of the time I only half remember what we spoke about, but one thing does stick. They often say it’s good to be ‘seen’, for not treating them as if they were invisible’.
I bet the Dutchman felt like that. It really doesn’t matter a damn if later on he wondered if Bob wasn’t Dutch. The benefit was in the moments they shared.