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Tongan Stature, Perfect Timing and the Sweet Symphony of Life

Like the recurring themes of a symphony, life has a way of reprising melodies, descants and rhythms in later movements. Thirty five years ago today, Sūsana and I met and, for me, it was love-at-first-sight. For her, it took a while longer.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra • Credit: VSO

But, stop the orchestra! I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s rewind this tune back 12 days.

One cold evening in late January, I saw her at the time clock of the language school where we both taught. It was easy to tell that she was on the Spanish faculty like me because her name tag sported a red background. So mesmerized by Sūsana and so delighted that we both spoke Spanish, I forgot to actually read her name. After exchanging hellos in passing, I also failed to find her timecard among the hundreds in the rack.

Her smile was intoxicating and I realized moments after she left that this was the same lady who had playfully winked at me days earlier in the corridor. She claims that she winked at all the male teachers. I’ve never believed it for a minute and maintain that her wink was just for me–that one, at least.

Thus began the most agonizing 12 days of my existence. For nearly two weeks I actively watched for this mystery co-ed on campus, at work, while shopping–anywhere and everywhere–with no success. She was driving me crazy!

It turned out that she normally taught during the day, but on that one occasion she had exchanged shifts with an evening instructor. So our paths didn’t cross again until the 12th of February.

Sweet relief came during a linguistics class, specifically devised for us total-immersion language teachers, watching Professor Taylor draw his lecture on a transparency sitting  on the illuminated glass of an overhead projector. (Google “overhead projector.” The way we measure time with technological advances, it was eons ago.) Classroom lights were dimmed during his presentation.

Overhead Projector

Overhead Projector • Credit: Wikipedia Commons

When the lights came back on, there she was, sitting just a few seats away and one row back. She wasn’t there before, so she must have arrived late to class. But, there she was now and that’s all that mattered.

I don’t recall anything that transpired in class after that moment. All my academic fervor was directed toward devising a strategy of getting to the door before she did, so that I could casually greet her after class. I didn’t want anyone in the room to buttonhole me while she escaped again, so I had to be strategically placed.

She was not going to get away that night without me discovering her name. Anything we happened to say to each other after that would be icing on the cake.

Class ended. I worked my plan and positioned myself in the hallway, then waited. She finally walked through the door. I smiled, said hello and we stood and talked for perhaps ten minutes in spite of the fact that her “boyfriend” was at her elbow and wouldn’t take her hints that he could, “Go on to class,” and that she would be along shortly.

I didn’t care! Boyfriend or no boyfriend, I had to know who this chick was so I could call her later and ask her out.

Finally, I got her name and, as I started to breathe easier with my mission accomplished, our small talk rambled into medium-sized talk, then into Tongan-sized talk.

Yes, it’s true! In that first conversation one of us brought up the naturally large stature of Tongans (you really can’t make this stuff up) and we chewed that fat for a while.

Queen Sālote of Tonga

H.M. Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III, who reigned as Tonga’s elegant sovereign from 1918 to 1965, stood a stately 6-feet 3-inches (1.91m) tall. Beloved of her people, Queen Sālote was also a renowned poet and song writer. Click on this photo to read more about Queen Sālote, including an example of her poetry in both English and Tongan. • Credit: State Library of Victoria

I located her listing later that evening in the student directory, called her up, asked her out and we had our first date that weekend. Only four months and two days passed from that first conversation about Tongans and such to the day on which we became Mr. and Mrs.

Our courtship was agile adagio and while we paced ourselves with mostly perfect meter toward the second movement, friends kept asking us what was taking so long.

So here we are, 35 years later, preparing to teach in Tonga, the land of our first discussion. Coincidence or serendipity? Cause or effect? Whimsey or just whatever? Or is it perhaps a recurring theme in the sweet symphony of life?

Ponder that thought and remember to hold the applause for last. Next movement’s about to start.