Wednesday, February 01, 2017
When I had no gray hair and our kiddos were young rather than their current 50+ and mid forties, our good neighbors and swell friends sold their house to move to a larger one a town over. We were sad and a tad worried. Handy-dandy neighborly proximity had treated us well. Would it continue to do so?
Then we met the new owners: she a lovely very fair-skinned redhead with freckles, he with dark eyes and dark thinning hair. Both wore welcoming smiles. It took us exactly one get-to-know-you cocktail hour to feel at home with them, desire to see them again. Real soon. Which we often did. Nicknames the likes of Sherbert, Baum and Norb quickly evolved. Gatherings ranged from cookouts to bouts of soap-opera watching (just the girls), rousing card-game nights, dinner outings, sporting events … You name it, they were ready. One of my favorite Christmas photos is the four of us in our living room, Carolyn and me wearing small stuffed Reindeer, their soft legs splayed across the crowns of our heads. Don’t ask.
We helped each other out, the way excellent friends and neighbors do.
Some time in we learned they were Muslim, she converting earlier in their relationship. Since we were friends with a Lutheran married to a Jew, a black married to a white, lived in a culturally diverse neighborhood and also enjoyed atheist friends, we viewed their religion as an opportunity to learn. Throughout the years we engaged in many conversations about their faith, watched them observe Ramadan, were blessed to imbibe in fabulous Iranian dishes and continued to always—always—be grateful for their abundant goodness. Over time, we met all the extended members of their family including the non US citizen relatives who annually visited from Iran. So much excitement for everyone’s vacation arrival. Same as families everywhere. We looked forward to their jovial and smart company.
As years marched on, our friendship deepened and flourished. Best. Friends Matter. I’m not sure we ever laughed harder and longer with any two people. I couldn’t imagine getting through some trying times with a member of my family without the steady, caring and tender guidance of Carolyn, a mental health therapist. A white-collar dude with a brilliant job, Norb volunteered to chauffeur our youngest son and his date to senior prom using his shiny blue convertible, complete with a fancy chauffeurs' hat to fully play the part. Oh, the pictures, memories and joy!
Eventually they sold their house next door (the people who bought it couldn’t say enough about their kindnesses and outreach during ongoing financial glitches) and moved into their first custom-built home a few towns away. Next they moved back to Colorado, from whence they’d originally arrived in Illinois. No matter, we still kept in touch, visited them there, and they us when they were in town. Eventually there came long stretches of time when we didn’t speak, but when we did, cliché-ville: it was as though no time at all had passed. “Our pet rabbit chewed our telephone lines in the family room,” they told us. “I’m heading to a convention in your neck of the woods,” I told them. At which point Carolyn and I wrangled a way for her to come stay in the hotel room with me for a night where we resurrected a few zany fun antics peculiar to us, swapped stories and laughter late into the night.
Then came 9/11.
Oh, how I worried about them, prayed over them. I’d talk myself hoarse defending our dear-heart friends over careless blind prejudiced statements about race or religion. My heart crushed when they reported receiving scary phone calls from strangers trolling phone books looking for last names that sounded like “something”. (I view such actions nothing short of home-grown terrorism.) More prayers. More leaning on my faith. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NLT) Did you know Muslim’s believe in the genuine divine revelation of the Psalms? Norbs prayed for us too.
Time passed and public hostile talk settled down. I quit worrying about them, at least over that kind of heinous treatment. We all aged into retirement, swapped travel stories, shared a few heartaches, more laughter, and news of our eventual move to Minnesota. “Come visit us on the river!” “We will. We WILL!”
Then … There we were again in the midst of presidential debates and political wranglings filled with blanket prejudiced religious statements. Again I prayed to the One True God (God of all) for their protection from such broad suspicions and fear-based spewing. Prayed that people’s land of origin and religion would not be held against them as a matter of political platform—as though any of us have control over where in the world we’re born. I ask, should springing to life from your mother’s womb automatically make you The Enemy, to anyone?!
Now we have the temporary (Lord, hear our prayers!) travel ban directed by our president. On that list, Iran. “No!” I shouted to the cosmos. “You mean to tell me that Norb’s family cannot come and visit them because … because … What? Why?
Because I said so?
Because we've let fear hijack us rather than standing strong and positive?
Because too many (or just one) misguidedly believe all Muslims are evil?
Because we are impatient?
Because in the midst of building a sand castle one believes it’s easier to pan for a bad grain by putting mountains of sand into a sieve and shaking? Or it’s determined we’ll just protect our imaginary castle by leaving all of the sand “over there” so that bad grain stays put?
Or … and I believe this is the answer: because too many never question their assumptions. And people in power who are afraid, who’ve built political platforms on fear, act on those assumptions.
In the meantime, homegrown brutality continues to strike from within. To list acts of horrid violence against children and our neighbors by our very own would be a list unending.
Instead, I prefer to write about just two people: a redhead with freckles and a gentle man. Goodness. US Citizens with dear family and forever friends, all who long to simply be in each others company.