makes me so sad. It just makes me so sad.
had heard the shopkeeper speaking Arabic with me,
and had asked him, Excuse me, but may I ask
you where you are from? The friendly young man behind
the counter was reticent to utter a controversial
place name like Palestine, and thus replied, I
am from Jerusalem.
questioner came alive. Even his blond hair glowed
a shade lighter. I grew up in Saudi Arabia!
I moved there when I was five. When we would go into
a shop, even if we didnt buy anything - when
we would go in, they would always give us a cup of
face lit up even more at this remembrance. In his
minds eye he was there, just as I have been
there. In another country than he. In different shops.
But there, in that Arab embrace. And here, meeting
in the same country, in the same city, close to both
our present homes, we were in the same shop with a
friendly Arab shopkeeper.
Saudi-raised American continued his reminiscence:
They made us feel...
he spoke the words, I could feel it too. I could feel
the calm, along with the liveliness of just being
alive, of possessing personal value for merely being
a human in the company of another human. He had created
the atmosphere for me, the one I have tried so many
times to create in pleading the case for my maligned
Arab friends, for my maligned host society, to even
out the imbalance that is so unfair. I could hear
his words before he said them, just as I have always
ended that sentence: They make you feel so welcome.
he was uttering the end of the sentence and I heard,
instead, that they make you feel...like family.
it. He came nearer to the mark than I have. There
is something closer than a welcome, than words of
greeting or a cup of tea. There is the feeling of
being at home, loved, protected and accepted. The
best sense of family, not the arguments and dysfunction
and feuds that can occur, but the wholeness, the soft
landing no matter what your circumstance, the sure
refuge, the natural return. Family.
love listening to Arabic. Its like listening
to my mother speaking. I smiled at this. This
young American student was even talking like an Arab,
with that unabashed and uncomplaining devotion to
his mother. Mother, the epitome of home. I concur:
just the sounds of the language give me the feeling
that all is well, even if I cant hear the conversation,
or especially so at times. In the doughnut shop I
dont really want to know what the taxi drivers
are discussing, but it makes me feel right to hear
sounds of the preferred language emanating from their
direction. In my new friends case, he doesnt
know much of the language, of its meaning anyway.
But he knows that it evokes the landscape of the culture:
what I call welcome; what he calls family.
makes me so sad, he reiterated again.
more than one reiteration. The sentence is so short
and it only speaks to someone who knows. It is a small
wedge in the unexpressable. It is the little drop
of water on a saucer that reflects an entire ballroom
in explicit detail on its tiny curved surface. It
is the constancy of guilty verdicts for the beloved
family member whom you know is innocent, and who has
been proven innocent of the crime, only to be remanded
to the death chamber by a deaf and imperious judge,
and hauled away by the stern-faced, steel-muscled
bailiff. Such a contrast to the tender hand that has
proffered so many cups of tea. And not just tea. A
smile. And not just a smile, but an unspoken atmosphere,
like the fragrance that emanates from peeling a tangerine.
What do you call it when you can feel the fragrance
approaching and intensifying and then becoming your
very atmosphere? Redolence. That redolence of welcome.
That redolence of family.
makes me so sad.
you say can save your friend, your beloved society
and culture, from this repeating judgment and brute
action to wipe out the redolence, to suffocate the
glow, to slam a silencer on the warm rhythms of the
language. Like hearing my mother speak.
The guilty verdict slapping a gag on your mother.
makes me so sad. It just makes me so sad.
talk a little, so glad to meet one another, relieved
more than happy. We share a secret that is jealously
guarded in the way you dont want it to be. You
want to spread abroad the good news of the beauty
of this culture, these people whom you know first
hand. And you cannot speak this, because the stern-faced
judges and steel-muscled bailiffs and respected writers
and smiling neighbors keep this a secret. They find
ways to muzzle you, to keep your voice out of the
living room, out of the classroom, out of the letters
to the editor, out of the range of radio airwaves.
You might think that their very existence is threatened
by a true representation of a culture they refuse
to know. They know only to ignore, to criticize, to
condemn, and thus to protect our society from any
positive and realistic evidence about this other culture.
makes me so sad.
upright thinkers keep the true picture a secret. They
wont let us speak. We find solace in one another,
meeting by chance in a shop, in a restaurant, at a
public lecture, or on the street. This is the secret
that we are bursting to share with our fellow citizens
and friends we love, friends who are so caring in
other situations, friends who do community service
and help minorities to be appreciated and to have
opportunities, friends who attend church regularly
and thank their God sincerely, friends who believe
the arts can save us from tyranny, friends who silence
us when we begin to say anything affirmative about
Arabs. They know what we do not. They know what the
real character of Arabs is. They know what the real
character of Muslims is because, unlike us, they have
not been tainted by actual acquaintance with people
of these categories. They can keep an objective distance,
surround themselves with an easy myth complete with
loaded compilations of labyrinthine statistics. They
have the higher wisdom to safeguard our culture by
seeing-no, and hearing-no, and speaking-no good about
these others. We see our Arab and Muslim friends and
the millions of their fellows misrepresented, misunderstood,
maligned and - yes:
makes us so sad.
of all because we want our fair-haired friends here
to share in the richness we have experienced. We want
to say welcome to them, as we have been
welcomed. We know how it feels, and it is the kind
of feeling you are compelled to share, not to hoard.
So you open your mouth with one little sentence which
you hope will open a portal of reception to this perception,
and then what? And then our living flesh
and blood friends and neighbors become cold, unrelenting,
deaf statues when we invite them to a true picture.
That is what is so sad, to see your loving friends
lose their human edge, on cue, just when you bring
up the subject of Arab culture, or even more, Arab
makes me so sad.
I told my new blond friend of volunteering in Palestine
and sojourning among refugees in camps, he honored
me and thanked me for doing this, and then posed one
last question: But arent you afraid
expected to hear the usual question, about danger
to my bodily safety. People there live the danger
every day. They can. We can. But that was not his
concern, so the twist in his final question surprised
me, just as his first remark about family had.
arent you afraid of what this will do to you,
seeing all this tragedy?
concern was the danger to my psyche.
said the positive part of living in the midst of constant
tragedy, is to be with people who maintain an amazing
strength of character, and continue to strive toward
a constructive future. They are able to bear this
suffering and still keep strong family ties. I said
the difficult part is having intelligent people in
my own country turn deaf ears to this deserving sector
of humanity. Deserving sector what do these
Arabs and Muslims deserve? They deserve to be considered
we afraid of what this will do to us, ignoring all
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