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The Compliment

Political correctness can be extremely perilous.  Ignorance of the appropriate jargon can leave you in a boiling caldron of misunderstanding.  Unfortunately, even politically correct words can transition from acceptable to offensive as those people or groups of people decide to change their minds or rethink their labels.  This can be particularly hazardous for someone who actively tries to find positive things to say to people.  I have attempted to improve my awareness and choice of words throughout the years with some show of progress.  Although I still find that my ignorance gets me in trouble, it is nothing like the time I first met the love of my life.  


I was working at DeAnza College in Cupertino, CA.  I was young and full of life, and although I was well meaning, I showed only brief bursts of refinement.   There were to be no such bursts on this day as I entered the Educational Diagnostic Clinic and saw a goddess sitting at Suzanne Nakayama’s desk.  Suzanne had left her position the previous week to have a baby.  I swayed in the doorway hearing only the zing of cupid's arrows as they pierced my equilibrium.


Judy, the supervisor of the program, saw me gazing across the room with my chin on the floor.  She could tell that I was in need of some aid.  "Hi Jim, let me introduce you to Suzanne's replacement.”


I followed Judy.  She walked.  I floated past several tables and desks in a hypnotic trance.  The whole room brightened as we were greeted with the kind of rare and infectious smile that magically lightens the hearts and burdens of everyone upon whom it shines.  The glowing goddess stood, tall and slender.  Her flushed cheeks emanated joy and enthusiasm.  Her hair was dark brown, warmed by wisps of auburn.  Her exotic eyes were darker brown, mysterious, yet loving and kind.  I was smitten, not just by her beauty, but by the totality of her presence.   My breath was short and my chest was bursting.  What little polish and tact I might have had in those days vanished, as my mouth hung open, a hangar for wayward flies. 


Judy said, "Jim, I'd like you to meet Karen, the new woman in our department."


Feeling obliged to say something, I lifted my chin off my chest and eloquently stammered, "And I can see you’re a real woman."


(This did not come out right.  Real woman - what’s that supposed to mean?  What I meant was that I could hardly believe that such a fantasy could materialize in the flesh, before my unsuspecting eyes, that such a vision could indeed be real, and that I was actually being introduced to her.  There was nothing remotely sexual in my mind or heart, but rather a pure reaction to the awesome presence standing before me.  Even these words are inadequate, but ‘real woman???”)


As my mouth betrayed me, her smile disappeared, her eyes widened and her fist clenched and flashed like a missile, almost invisible, but for the smoke.  Had my heart not been pounding with love, my shoulder would have been throbbing with pain from her lightening-bolt smack.  What a scene, the wrath of a goddess, the shocking punishment for an ignorant young man whose only sin was his linguistic inadequacy.  


I am happy to say that this painful experience did not deter me from refining my quest to more effectively verbalize the good I find in others.  In fact, it did not deter me at all. Our first kiss was on May 23rd.  Our first date was June 7th.  We were living together by July 13th.  That “woman" has been my wife, lover and best friend for nearly half a century.  In many ways I feel vindicated because to this day Karen is every bit the awesome woman who smacked me with love those many years ago. 


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