Monday, April 13, 2015


We recently had the chance to watch our granddaughter, Caroline, tie for sixth in the Maine State Spelling Bee.  It was an exciting experience in its own right, but I couldn't help think of our frustrating experience with a spelling bee years ago.  When Rachel was in 5th grade, my husband Ed was a pastor in an impoverished area of Tennessee.  We had chosen to send both kids to the public school, and it wasn’t long before we realized that the teachers unfortunately were rather uneducated themselves.  This fact was highlighted in the school spelling bee.  It may help to understand that we have a family tradition of spelling excellence - after all, I managed to place in the Shelby County (Memphis) bee in junior high, and my sister and our children have always been great spellers.  So it was with great anticipation Ed and I attended Rachel’s bee.  It wasn’t long before I realized that the teachers who were leading the bee did not know how to correctly pronounce the words.  It seemed impossible that a bee could be attempted when student were given mispronounced words, but that is what happened.  With every word, I was reaching the limits of my patience.  The breaking point for me nearly came when a teacher gave the word “cherub.”  She pronounced it chrub, like shrub.  Now what child could spell that word correctly, given that pronunciation?  The teacher put the accent on the wrong syllable!  Come to think of it, I should have been forewarned, as a week before, Rachel told us her teacher was teaching the class about a country called “Gu’em” (accent on the first syllable) which turned out to be Guam.

Fast forward decades, and now I am a medical transcriptionist who after years of transcribing for American providers is now trying to decipher dictators from India, Brazil, the Philippines, and eastern European countries.  For months I was totally confused.  They were speaking English, but not any English that was familiar to me.  I recently realized that one of the problems was that most of these dictators were putting the accent on the wrong syllables.  Esophagus became e-zo-FA-gus.  Ever since that realization, when I’m stumped about what I hear, I try to imagine if the word were said with the accent on a different syllable, and I will usually figure out the correct syllable, and understand clearly what the word is supposed to be.  But when the accent is on the wrong syllable, the whole situation can be confusing and frustrating, limiting communication, and putting up what seem like insurmountable barriers.

It occurred to me that life itself, in a broader sense, is made up of syllables.  Love, tolerance, hope, compassion, encouragement, gratitude, as well as hate, distrust, intolerance, anger, and especially, fear.  I believe the syllable of fear underlines so much of our daily interactions, and it is the syllable we accent by default.  Fear of not having enough money, fear of death, fear of losing our jobs, fear of failure, fear of not being accepted, fear of never finding a mate, fear of growing old, fear of losing independence, fear of crime, fear of flying - you name it - fear seems to be our accent of choice.  How much of a difference would it make if we chose to accent love and all that entails?  Where the accent goes makes a world of difference, and...I believe... can make a difference in the world.