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What Unites Us

January 1, 2017

Somewhere near Kirkut, Iraq a Muslim mother is praying for my better half, James.  That may sound like an odd statement in which to begin another year of blogging, but it was this news that has lifted my spirits after weeks of processing and pondering about the currant predicament our nation (and the world) now finds itself.

Last fall, James as a college professor, came to know a 30 year-old man who for the very first time in his life sat down to learn in an actual classroom.   Growing up in Iraq and becoming sad and stressed over the idea that even children would be encouraged to be martyrs he made his way to Turkey.   Sleeping under overpasses and scrounging to exist he learned to speak Arabic.  When a slot opened in the ‘lottery’ for a chance to come to the United States his future changed in ways that mere words probably can never convey.

It probably comes as no surprise this man has a very able and keen mind.  On his own he started to learn English and today speaks so he could fit into most dinner conversations. Apart from issues with a few idioms he has a better grasp of the language than some folks raised in this nation.

James continues to prove to be a teacher in the full sense of the word.  When he discovered the man was very tired of eating bland chicken and rice it was not long before a plan was set in motion to create changes in the kitchen.  First up was the purchase of a Middle Eastern cookbook along with a trip to Hy-Vee with the struggling cook to buy spices, measuring spoons, and a few basics to make meals tasty and healthy.

When some more foundational work was needed with math skills some workbooks were found and now in his free time when waiting for passengers as an Uber driver he works to become more proficient with numbers.

With the money he makes a portion is sent back to his family in Iraq.  Which brings us back to this young man’s mother.

The funny story is told that when cash was arriving his mom called and was quite concerned that he was involved in something unseemly.  “No, Mother, I am a taxi driver.”  She responded. “Well, I have seen movies and worry about you.”

He told her about James and his help and guidance with lessons and cooking skills.  She was so happy to hear that and told her son “I will pray for him”.

And therein lies what has allowed me to get past the insanity of 2016.

All over the world the same threads of life connect us.  There are men and women across the globe in search of a better life and more importantly safety.  There are untold numbers of young people like this man we have come to know who work hard in a new land and then send some of their earnings back to help support loved ones.   There are eager minds who learn new languages, adapt to different climates and cultures all in the pursuit of happiness and a new beginning.

And there are moms in every land who worry about their children and are touched when a stranger reaches out to lend a hand.  The threads that unite us are just so clear to see.

Therefore, it deeply anguishes me when whole faiths are maligned for political purposes, or brown skinned people with different sounding names get treated with less respect or outright bigotry.   What will develop this year as a new administration takes over in Washington will test us as a nation and as a people.

This holiday period the young man sat at our table drinking tea and eating angel cookies that were made from my mom’s recipe.  He was soon off to his job, math book in hand, while James stuck a candy bar in his coat pocket as he left our home.   I watched him walk to his vehicle and drive away.   I had a genuine smile on my face.

In the midst of the political storms that will burst wide open in the months to come regarding those from other lands I offer the lesson from my days of childhood in a small church in Hancock.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Let our nation find that as our path forward, too.

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