Friday, June 22, 2007

The Synchronicity of Lydia

The focus of INPY's post today is synchronicity.

I discovered it only after I'd already read the more personal account of Last Stop Suburbia.

There is certainly some sort of cosmic validation thing going on here.

I, too, couldn't have been much older than eight or nine. I remember, vividly, sitting in my usual seat on the bright-yellow-brand-new-for -the-privileged-snotty-kids-who -lived-in-suburbia-and -attended-the-"gifted"- school bus next to my friends. I don't, however, remember their names.

But I remember Lydia.

She suddenly appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of the school year. Perhaps later; it was warm and sunny -- maybe Spring? She sheepishly climbed in and slid into the front seat -- the one nearest the driver, and reserved for troublemakers or suck-ups (remember?), obviously trying to avoid attention.

Lydia smelled. Different, and pungent. This circumstance, of course, attracted the ire of all the other kids on the bus, myself included. We mercilessly teased her; she didn't say anything in reply. "You stink!"

"She's a terrorist," another boy shouted. I didn't understand what that meant.

By the time we'd arrived at our destination, Lydia was crying. She fled from the bus as quickly as she could manage with her backpack and lunchbox.

Looking back, I'll bet that lunchbox was lovingly prepared by her mom. And that it contained chicken, some rice, maybe some eggplant.

S and her sisters once related to me in one of those laugh-about-our-childhood-and-being-crazy-immigrants moments that they discovered from the White Kids that PB&J sandwiches were the only acceptable (and American) lunch fare. Wanting nothing more than to assimilate, they asked Mommy to make them, in place of things decidedly less American, like kebab. Mommy, stranger to baseball and apple pie, asked what these PB&J sandwiches were made of. The girls told her: peanut butter, jelly and bread. That's it!

The next day, they opened their boxes -- ecstatic at taking another intrepid step to being normal -- and discovered their "sandwiches." Not on Wonderbread, mind you. Not even on Sara Lee whole wheat. Inside neatly folded bits of noon-lavash (a sort of Perso-Arab pita) were smears of peanut butter and jam. As far as Mommy knew, bread is bread!

Lydia remained the butt of many jokes and the center of bullies' attention for the rest of the year. She was a classmate. I remember, once, she left her desk at the bell ringing for recess, and in the hollow of the hard plastic seat she'd vacated was a puddle of urine.

Her life was made miserable.

This story occurred almost twenty five years ago. Say, around 1983 or 1984.

Lydia's last name was Farhadian. I recognize it, now. She was (surely, is) Iranian. Likely, her family had recently escaped the brutal terror that gripped her nation in the tumultuous years shortly after Khomeini's return. Maybe, even, they were Baha'i. In any case, I imagine they came to this country to escape hell, in whatever form it took. Persecution. Rape. Murder.

And certainly, at that time, it was even less easy to be Iranian in the U.S. The hostage crisis had only recently been put behind, certainly not forgotten.

And Lydia's welcome? Like the girl with a cleft palate, she wasn't made to feel a part of anything. She was made a target. She had escaped nothing.

I hope -- in my heart of hearts, I swear it -- that she grew up to be a happy Iranian-American. That the taunts and teases and miseries I and other kids visited upon her ended in short order. That she forgave, and forgives.

I feel guilty, still. I would like nothing more than the opportunity to sincerely apologize. I was not immune, mind you, to being teased. Who among us was? It is part of growing up, I suspect. Nonetheless, now that I am (considerably) older, I understand that our words and our ignorance and our bigotry and our lack of empathy cut deep. And they make an already impossible-to-imagine circumstance -- coming to another country and trying, trying to fit in -- exponentially harder. I genuinely hate that I did those things to her.

The irony of this has not escaped me -- that I have since, in the long years intervening, become an amateur Persianist. That I have fallen in love with Lydia's history, her culture, her language.

Consequently, it has been (and will remain) a decidedly conscious effort on my part to imbue in my daughter a genuine empathy for others as well as an appreciation for and an interest in what is different. Oh, that little turd loves her macaroni & cheese. But she's also developed an insatiable appetite for sekanjebin.


startingtoday said...

I didn't read INPY's post, but did have time to read yours, and was really pondering your last comment - about your daughter.

My daughter will be coming to spend time with me for a few weeks in Washington DC, after spending 3 1/2 years in a very, umm, "monocultural" (i.e.. - white)area of Massachusetts. What worries me is when I hear that relatives have told her that there are "scary" people down here.

I hope when she's here I can really convey a different sort of message to her.. one where she learns to be sympathetic, empathetic, appreciative, and interested in all of the types of people around her.

Kristin said...

Kids are harsh, even to those who seem the same. They can be downright cruel to those who are different. Teaching your daughter tolerance is a gift that will last a lifetime.

mm said...

I remember in elementary school we used to tease this kid named Daniel Berman, simply because he was a little chubby. He was quiet, tried to stay to himself and didn't have many friends. Looking back now, I feel like a total ass. But there's nothing I can do now. At least you can teach your daughter tolerance, so she can befriend the Lydias and Daniels.

gn said...

Kids can be mean. INPY's post certainly sparked a lot of comments and original posts!

This has absolutely nothing to do with that, but I tagged you in a meme. See my latest post for the rules!

ジェネヴィーヴ said...

Good post. I'm glad you learned something from your experience. I've had the lovely pleasure of meeting some ignorant jerks who are exactly like those kids I encountered as a kid. They haven't changed one bit and still make me feel ugly and unwanted.
On the flip- side I do forgive the people who made my life hell as a kid. I'm sure Lydia has done the same. :)

Mood Indigo said...

This post breaks my heart. And of course reminds me of a similiar kid who was in my fourth grade class. I had yet to learn my own very personal lessons about cruelty and exclusion - so while I didn't contribute to his taunting (that I remember), I didn't do anything to stop it either. I do remember my mom giving a furious lecture to some of my classmates about their cruelty when she was at school helping with a project one day. I also remember a few years later, in the throws of middle school drama, when she lectured me and a couple of girlfriends (with some colorful language, I might add) about the fact that we were talking maliciously about another friend behind her back. These lessons were not lost on me, and yours won't be lost on your daughter either.