I was going through my old document files this morning and found some notes I had written while I was working at Head Start a few years ago. I had the amazing experience of working with a young woman who is about the same age as my own children but of very different background. She is the oldest daughter of a large Punjabi family and grew up on a farm. She likes fast food and hates the smell that lingers in a house where curry is cooked often. She drove a black pick-up and kept it shiny. She wore blue jeans and t-shirts most of the time, and I never saw her wear a dress. She showed us a few pictures of her at a wedding wearing traditional Punjabi dress, I cannot make an image in my mind of Mindi in a dress. She was spoiled and put upon and nurtured by her family, and somehow this combination produced a very well balanced person who moves comfortably with complete integrity in two very different cultures.
Though my job as teacher for this agency was not always great, working with Mindi was one of the things that made the experience worthwhile. Here is what I wrote at some point in the 4 years I worked with her. It helps me to remember the positive parts of those difficult years. I wonder what she is up to these days. Whatever it is she will bring to it her impeccable sense of self that makes where she decides to be a better place for anybody who is paying attention. It is how she moves in the world, and how she allows the world moves around her.
I have had the same assistant for three years. When I first met her I knew she was formidable. Mindi is the eye of the storm and remains herself in the swirling gale. She sets her domain and then extends the borders in microscopic increments slowly to include the things that make her uncomfortable.
She was so upset one time when a child she was dealing with fell and hit her head. She could have moved slower and more deliberately, and she was frustrated at the time. So she thought the head bump was her fault even though she had handled the whole thing well and actually prevented the child from injuring herself more. She asked me my opinion, and I told her that she had handled the situation well and that children can surprise you no matter how thoughtful your work is. I helped her with the accident report and talking with the parent. Mostly, I was just present and reminded her of what she had done right. As she left at the end of her workday I could tell that she was still dwelling on what she could have done better. She does not seek perfection- she expects it and is upset when she makes mistakes even the ones that everyone else makes.
She is tall and brown and farm grown with a giggle and fear of worms and bugs. She does not talk about her friends or relationships beyond her family. She makes it very clear that her family is the most important part of her life. Her music is pop and country, and she plays it for everyone. Like any other self-possessed youth she does not ask of anyone else’s preferences, but for Mindi, I would listen to anything. I wander around doing my job and make little comments about the silly songs which she mostly ignores. I would not even think to have her change the station or choose my music over hers. She is the Punjab princess of her domain,the big sister. She is the keeper of the places of all things. She makes herself indispensable to those she chooses and unapproachable to those she avoids.
She ran over her puppy as she backed out of her driveway on her way to work one day and honestly told the story to all who would hear it not worrying about how she would appear in the story. She cried whenever she told the story. After she cries, when she smiles, I have to turn away for the beauty of it. She wears thick black glasses that rest on the slender roundness of her dark face. The thick frames disappear before the perfection of her expression. She is all gentle strength and motherly, but silly and flighty at the same time. She gives herself in friendship to those who honestly work with her. She treats me like a father/uncle, which makes me feel protective of her and makes me want to push her to make decisions I see as right, though I know she is the only one who can tell the right path for her. She is solid to me like a wall to lean on. I only lean a little, now and then, because I am not much of leaner, more like I give her room to expand as far as she wants to in her role. Whatever is left, I keep together.