It’s easy to see who people who live to work would keep at it as long as they could. Likewise, it’s easy to envision people developing a fulfilling second career around something they’re passionate about (knitting, world peace, aromatherapy. . .). But what about those who work to live? Or who have yet to encounter that all-consuming passion or cause?
Of everyone I’ve talked to so far, Sam Adelo has supplied the best answer: everybody’s knowledgeable about something. Draw on that expertise to help someone else.
A. Samuel Adelo (the A’s for Abdallah) has been a court interpreter for 20 years, but his first career was the law. He was born to a first-generation immigrant from Lebanon who, after serving in World War I, set himself up in business by peddling dry goods between small town and ranches around Las Vegas, New Mexico, in a horse-drawn wagon. He met his wife, who was Hispanic, while she was working on a dude ranch, and they settled in Pecos, New Mexico. Adelo grew up speaking Spanish and hearing a lot of Arabic and French spoken by his father’s colleagues and cousins. Noting that the boy’s English wasn’t as good as it could be, Adelo’s father sent him to boarding school in Santa Fe and on to Notre Dame. Adelo ended up getting two law degrees from Southern Methodist University, working for Gulf Oil and traveling all over Central and South America. When Gulf was bought out by Chevron, he figured, “I’m 63, it’s a perfect time to retire.”
A few months later, his wife Loretta said, “You’ve always loved languages” and pointed out a notice in the newspaper about a federal examination for court interpreters. Now eighty-four, Adelo works around 50 hours a week, typically interpreting several days a week at the municipal court and the rest translating for clients who range from the Attorney General to a local medical practice. He compares his situation to acquaintances who spend the first year of retirement “fixing the old adobe,” as he puts it, then grow fidgety “because they don’t have a damn thing to do, they have no identity.” Adelo, on the other hand, knows he has to get to court by 8:45.
Brain research shows the aging brain continues to form new synapses, and that this plasticity is directly related to mental stimulation. It’s hard to imagine a better neural workout than interpreting. “While somebody’s speaking, you’re going through about 19 cognitive steps trying to figure out how you’re going to say it in the target language,” he explains. “You’ve got grammar, you’ve got terminology, you’ve got context. And you’ve got to make damn sure, because it’s a court of law: a man’s life or liberty is at stake.” Using language the way interpreters do, says Adelo, “is like exercising a muscle.” He has no doubt that he continues to get better at it, because he’s continually learning. In the first audio clip, he describes the exhilaration of meeting this challenge.
Adelo’s income enables him and Loretta to live well in a very pricey town, but the satisfaction of helping people is more important than the money. Most gratifying has been “working with lawyers who were able to get young immigrants from going to prison — to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were not guilty.” In the second audio clip, he describes how the work makes him feel at the end of the day.
Adelo bemoans the tendency to settle into a rut. “A lot of the elderly people they don’t even want to learn how to use a computer, for example,” he points out. “Don’t just say, ‘I’m going to get my Social Security check and my pension check and just lay back and look at the television’” he exhorts. What about people who may not have traveled the world or learned four languages fluently? Adelo nails it: “Look around and you’ll see that somebody needs your know-how.”