A Pleasant Surprise

I am drawn to the quietness and vastness of West Texas for a variety of reasons.  That big western sky lights up red, orange, pink, and purple as the sun drops below the horizon each sundown, proving, quite conclusively, that no human painter (even one who considers herself a fauvist) is as audaciously creative as nature itself. 

I don’t get out there as often as I used to.  My mom still resides out west, so my wife and I drove out to those parts this past Thanksgiving.  The woman who carried me in her womb and then delivered me to this world currently makes her home in a little town called Eldorado (population 2,257).

Eldorado is the governmental seat of Schleicher County, a part of Texas that is as pro-Trump as any area in the country.  The citizens of that town and county drive enormous pickups, wear cowboy hats, attend church on Sundays, and don’t cotton to any sort of “liberal” thinking. 

My mom is an oddity in those parts because she is somewhat unconventional and getting more that way as she ages.  She decided she wanted us to have our Thanksgiving meal at Eldorado’s little community center, an old hospital that had been converted to that purpose.  Because she is civic-minded, she decreed that we had to give a nice monetary donation to the center after we’d eaten.  So that’s exactly what we did.

We were nearing the end of our meal when some of the food servers joined us at our table, sitting close enough for us to strike up a conversation.  One of those we talked to was clearly a trans person who’d been assigned “male” at birth.  (While preparing to write this blog, I had to do a bit of research to make sure that I was using appropriate language.  I discovered lots of helpful educational websites, including this one.)

By the way, anyone with even a little awareness, understands that either/or thinking is crude and fallacious because its aim is to dismiss nuance.  The older I get, the more I realize that almost nothing in this world can be well understood without employing at least a little intellectual subtlety.

I found the trans person incredibly charming.  Quite surprisingly, while we were talking, the server told us that she—I’m using “she” because several of those with her used female pronouns while referring to her—spoke Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish fluently.  (Of course, we were using English to communicate.)  When I asked her how she learned all these languages, she told me that she was born with a talent for acquiring them and was self-taught.  My wife chimed in and said that Arabic was her mother tongue.  Hearing this, the server turned to her and said, “Salaam alaykum” to which my wife answered “Alaykum salaam.”  She followed that up with several other Arabic words and phrases but then confessed she was only a beginner.  Honestly, I was flabbergasted.

The moral of this story is this:  Don’t jump to conclusions about places and people.  I never would have expected to meet such a person in such a place as Eldorado.  (Those who shared a meal with us at the community center were likely as conservative as they come and yet no one seemed to notice—or care—that there was a trans person among us.)  Plus, how in the world did Eldorado produce—she told us she was born and raised in the little village—a person who was interested in foreign languages and had taught herself several, including Arabic?

Meeting the food server—I’m sorry we didn’t tell each other our names—made me feel a little better about Eldorado and those who live there.  I like to think of myself as open-minded and such, but I found that I was as guilty as sin about prejudging the place and those who live there.  I clearly need to check myself about my propensity to jump to conclusions.  

Have you had a similar eye-opening experience recently?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  Thanks for reading!

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

If you’d like to see some of Troy’s art, have a look.

18 thoughts on “A Pleasant Surprise

  1. ” I clearly need to check myself about my propensity to jump to conclusions.” … I wonder how many ‘Pleasant Surprises’ I forfeited in life by regretfully doing so 🥲

    1. I have the same question in my mind, Fred D. I guess there’s a fine line that separates making an “educated guess” about people and places and stereotyping them. I suppose we have to work hard to stay on the right side of that line. Thanks for the comment.

  2. The stereotypes cut deep on both sides of the cultural divide.

    I grew up in rural northern Michigan. The folks I grew up with are as “redneck” as people can be. Farmers in an era when the family farm is going extinct. My cousin is an atheist surrounded by God fearing protestant conservatives. It hasn’t stopped him from making friends or being accepted.

    If you just try to be a good person yourself and not rub the noses of the people around you in how wrong they are, there is more tolerance than you’d think.

    1. You make a great observation and your cousin is a great example of how people everywhere go against the grain. I suppose the media and such sort of keep us agitated about “polarization.” Don’t get me wrong. We are a polarized and divided people. I hope there are enough people who see that we have more in common than divides us. I suppose I’m feeling optimistic day. Maybe I’m coming down with something…LOL. Thanks for the comment.

  3. If more people confessed to how they really feel rather than trying to conform to what they think is expected, we might after all find that more people allow the instinctive human out .
    The natural instinct has learnt neither hate nor the fear that drives it.

    1. Excellent point. I think most people respond well to people behaving authentically and generally dislike fakers and poseurs. Thanks so much for reminding me about this in human nature.

  4. There is hope in the world, yet, if we are able to accept one another for what we are. May there always be acceptance like this around. What attracted me to my husband was our shared core values despite our wikdly diverse backgrounds.

    1. I agree. May there always be more tolerant than intolerant people in the world. I’ve long believed that we are morally bound to tolerate everything but intolerance. Yes, shared core values are important. What I worry about is that there is more and more disagreement about that fact that goodness and decency and tolerance are important things to strive for. What will become of us if a large percentage of people see value in harming those they disagree with, and come to think that “winning” at all costs is a path worth pursuing? Thanks for your comment.

  5. Great post and such an incredibly good reminder about assumptions. I find myself surprised that the trans person stayed in Eldorado but like you said, that’s me being guilty of judging the place I’ve never even visited.

    I find when I make assumptions, it short-circuits my curiosity and I’m less for it. Thank you for the eye-opener, Troy!

    1. I find myself wondering about that myself. Just up the highway about 45 or so minutes is a city called San Angelo where she would surely find more of a community of people. But who am I to decide where she finds community and solace? I suppose it is possible that she likes living in Eldorado. It certainly seems that way. Again, I want to be able to boil her whole situation down so that it makes sense to ME. But why must it makes sense to me? It’s her life? I think it must show courage to have chosen to remain in Eldorado. But there I go making assumptions again! Thanks for the comment, Wynne.

  6. Many years ago (like well over a decade ago), I had a short-lived political blog. One thing I did during those days that I’m not proud of was that I made a lot of assumptions about fellow bloggers based on external labels.

    When I started this blog, I made a decision that I wasn’t going to make snap judgments based on labels. I was going to read and listen more. And maybe it’s because my political opinions have also evolved and no longer fit so neatly into a particular box, but I’ve found myself connecting with bloggers and liking posts reflecting views from across the spectrum. And some bloggers who I assumed would think one thing think something else. It’s been a real lesson on not making assumptions.

    1. Like you, I’ve done lots of writing about politics in the past and even had quite a few pieces published in some really nice places. I think we live in an age where the caricature reigns supreme. Having said that, I think polarization sort of forces people to become tribal and thus take all-or-nothing, extreme positions, meaning that we choose to present ourselves as caricatures. My Eldorado experience was such an important one. It’s given me pause to rethink things. Certainly, many in that little town would behave in very “Trumpy” ways, but even if 10 percent of the population were as open-minded as they could be, that would be a significant number of people. As I said in one of my earlier responses to a comment, Americans generally appreciate authenticity in people. Even is someone comes across as “weird,” being authentically weird is often seen as a good thing in a country that was built by characters, oddballs, and the unorthodox. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

  7. Wonderful post, Troy! I reside in Florida “Trump country.” Sometimes I find this a little distressing, but I find that interacting with people on an individual basis, some of them are really quite nice. It would be wonderful to return to the days where we were all Americans first, cooperated when we could, and respected each others views.

    1. Hi, Cheryl. I’m really torn when it comes to this subject. On the one hand, like my recent experience demonstrates, I want to avoid stereotyping people. On the other hand, I have a hard time getting past the idea that many people are supporters of very authoritarian leaders and embrace authoritarianism. How can I balance these two things? Do you think we can turn back the hands of time and get out of our little thought silos? Anyway, in the particular case I wrote about, it was very refreshing to find someone who seemed to be swimming against the current and getting away with it in a very provincial little place. But maybe this isn’t the norm? Thanks for the comment.

  8. It’s amazing how I could draw so many comparisons from your post, and more so because we are continents apart. I am not sure if it is because of the internet that the socio-political landscape only ‘appears’ the same everywhere, or are people actually evolving a certain way that they think on similar lines irrespective of where they come from. Or may be both these things are not mutually exclusive. Anyhow, I can’t really recall having as remarkable an experience as you did, but I too keep getting glimpses that really challenge the way I think about people and society.

    1. Hi. I am happy to hear from you. I guess people are about the same everywhere. Just out of curiosity, where do you live? I lived overseas many years, and I’m always happy to meet people from other places. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  9. I don’t disagree when you say people are about the same everywhere. Yet, for some reason, a part of me is disappointed to know this, and I can’t really say why. Oh, by the way, I live in India.

  10. What a wonderful post, Troy. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Your heart shined throughout it–the type of writing that calls to me deeply. 🙏

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