We’ve recently been going through an obstacle course with our vehicle and the latest challenge was getting the windshield replaced after it mysteriously (according to everyone, BUT the dealership) broke from the inside. While sitting inside the glass shop, I decided to take Little One over to McDonalds – a trip we do not even take once a month, but I knew a pancake would pass some time. So, we headed over to McDonalds with the stroller. As I opened the door, an elderly man’s voice bellowed, “Bring that little fella over here.”
Little One and I proceeded over to a table of 3 gentlemen who were having their morning coffee while reflecting on events throughout the country and the world (is this not a staple of every McDonalds in the morning???). The gentleman who summoned us over continued talking, “What’s his name?”
“Little One (no, that’s not what I really said… ha ha),” I replied.
“What?” he grunted.
“Little One,” I responded, pretty familiar with this common response due to our son’s unique name in this country.
“What?” he asked again.
“Little One,” I slowly stated, trying to ensure he heard each phonetic sound. I knew what was coming next; it’s always one of two questions.
“How do you spell that?” he asked as his friends listened with perked ears. I proceeded to spell it for him. “Huh. What kinda name is that?” (and that would be the second common question we get).
“It’s Arabic,” I explained.
“Is that what you are?” he inquisitively asked.
“No,” I chuckled (as if my extremely Eastern European features didn’t give that answer away). I continued the conversation by explaining the cultural significance behind my son’s name from my husband’s side. It’s always exciting to share this information (which is easy to do with the responses we get after mentioning his name). My husband’s culture still maintains a strong sense of tribal pride and in the honor of naming as they name each child in the family. Your name reflects your family’s dreams for you, as well as serving as a reminder of your heritage as the middle names are based on the patriarchal lineage. We continued to then have several short conversations around various topics such as guessing the first gentleman’s age (92!), hearing about the importance of my generation working (the men explained they need their social security to keep coming in – with a laughI) and the offering of a free place to rent from the oldest gentleman (a very tempting offer, but one I have yet to share with the husband).
During all of these streams of conversation, one of the guys quietly asked, “What country is your husband from?” A question he must have been pondering over since the earlier explanation of Little One’s name. A silence came over the other men as they listened intently. I provided the response and, to my surprise, the gentleman became emotional as his eyes welled up with tears. “It’s just terrible what’s happening over there. I feel so bad for those people. My heart aches for them. It’s only a few who are making the lives of many others so horrible. Please tell your husband that he is in my thoughts and prayers.”
I felt such warmth from this man’s compassion. In today’s society, one never knows what response you will get from another when you share an answer that is far from the norm, or not what most individuals are comfortable with hearing. Sometimes you hear the negative assumptions and false claims, most times you get a reaction of silence or “oh” and then there are the other times when you encounter someone who genuinely “gets it.” The conversation did not continue and eventually Little One and I found our way to the counter to order the, what now seemed so insignificant, pancake.
This gentleman’s reaction left me feeling humbled and seeking the camaraderie that this group of men (which did increase in size throughout the conversation) possessed. A group of men who maintained the level of social interaction that was present during the years they were reared by their parents, instead of conforming to the ever-growing technology dependent social interactions. A group of men who appeared to believe in learning about life through engagement with others, instead of living life believing that only our own personal experiences can shape our lives. A group of men who held a vast amount of worldly knowledge and who were interested in sharing it with others, not to boast, but rather in an effort to deepen their understanding of the world around them. A group of men who were merely going about their casual day, while making a memorable impression on a younger woman because they were willing to make a personal connection in a society that is becoming more egocentrical.
To this group of men, I want to say thank you. The interaction was brief and yet so meaningful. They brought a smile to my face and increased my willingness to start up conversations with strangers (after all, how many degrees of separation are really between us?). The laughter and sincere interest is something that will not be forgotten for years to come. They inspired me. They encouraged me. They intrigued me. My world was expanded because they shared their world with me.
Ahmeli… that Little One will encounter people like these men who embrace him for being unique.
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