This summer I worked with a young woman who wanted to improve her writing skills before starting college. Though we got along well, I got the sense she had a lot of other things going on that took her attention away from writing. Going to college is a huge thing, and there are plenty of things to think about in preparation for the big move away from home. I couldn't blame for not feeling particularly motivated to write, especially when she had yet to experience a professor handing out a syllabus with multiple long papers assigned. I didn't blame her for wanting to savor her pre-college freedom as long as possible.
One day she gave me a little lesson in communication that made me chuckle. I was waiting for her at the library. She was coming by bus, so I knew she was somewhat at the mercy of the unpredictability of public transportation. After waiting a little while, I got a text message from her saying she would be late because, in her words, "the bus left." Fascinating and clever choice of words. "The bus left." How concise, how elegant, how...wait a minute. Didn't she mean to say, "I missed the bus"? Or did she?
Ah, the power of words, in my face once again. I was not there to see exactly what transpired at the bus stop, so I can't make any judgments. I myself have experienced plenty of times the utter anguish of arriving at the bus stop just as the bus is pulling away, then running with every ounce of strength I have to no avail, the determined bus driver still driving off with a vengeance, as if to somehow punish me for wasting that minute deciding whether to grab a sweater. When describing such a situation to a friend, I imagine I would be inclined to say, "I missed the bus!" But to a potential employer or someone with whom I have a more formal relationship? Might I have found a concise way to place the blame on the vehicle rather than on myself? And would it be wrong to do so? Maybe it was a moment like that for my young friend. Or maybe she just didn't quite get outside when she knew she should have because she wasn't terribly concerned about missing the bus. But she didn't miss the bus. "The bus left". I have the text message to prove it. Right?
Maybe I should have been more disapproving. But as I awaited her arrival at the library, I found myself marveling at her ability to make a simple, innocent statement of fact while also rendering the potentially obvious ambiguous and thereby not incriminating herself. What a refreshing alternative to my tendency to unnecessarily complicate simple occurrences such as a bus leaving. But did it leave or did she miss it? And if she in fact missed it, was her statement objectionable? Should I have given her a lesson on the importance of utter honesty at all costs? Did I miss a teachable moment? These are the kinds of questions I wrestle with while I wait for the bus, if I get there before it leaves. She'll do great in college I think.