After college I went to live in New York City. I ended up working at a university computer center. The people I met there clearly left a lasting mark on this girl from the homogenous Midwest. In our department of roughly 120 people, we had folks that were right off the boat (a term used on the East coast) from different continents and countries. I worked with Jews, Catholics, and Protestants; gays and lesbians, and one gentleman named Tom who was paralyzed from polio and did his computer programming by breathing into a tube connected to his specially adapted wheelchair. My eyes were opened to the richness and lessons that can only come from experiencing such diverse people who were talented, giving and quite frankly, just as human as I was.
I grew as a person by being exposed to different languages. Two of our administrators spoke russian fluently. Just from overhearing their conversations I was able to pick up enough russian to recognize it on the phone from a panicked caller speaking something that clearly was not English. I quickly found one of my russian speaking co-workers who was able to calm the woman down. Apparently, she thought her husband was having a heart attack. In her haste she had misdialed and by chance reached our phone number. Thankfully, my co-worker, Ludmilla, was able to direct her to dial 9-1-1 and get her the help she needed.
Another co-worker, named Neptali, was an especially giving man. With only steep stair cases and limited elevator usage in our building, when our department practiced emergency drills, wheelchair-bound Tom was to stay by a window overlooking a very busy Broadway Street seven floors below. Neptali volunteered to stay with Tom. Neptali was to signal to emergecy workers of their location by the corner window should they need to be rescued. That Neptali would be willing to stay when the rest of us evacuated left an indelible impression on me. He was just the kind of person who would want be there, and the one you'd love to have be there for you too. Wouldn't the world be great if there were more people like him?
One of my favorite memories of my time at NYU occurred amidst a personal wardrobe malfunction. I made the mistake of wearing a new pair of white pants to work over white undergarments. Apparently, the material wasn't as thick as I thought and I was revealing more than I bargained. My female co-worker who was originally from the Dominican Republic noticed my faux pas immediately and commented, "Everyone knows that women are supposed to wear black under clothes that you can see-through," I paused, smiled and said sweetly, "If I was half as tan as you, I would be able to wear black." Eyes grew wide around the room, as we all broke into a fit of laughter. She had not seen me as a white friend, she just saw me as a friend. And I loved her for it.