Monday, July 24, 2006

They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were......

They were so strong in their beliefs that there came a time when it hardly mattered what exactly those beliefs were; they all fused into a single stubbornness.
Louise Erdrich

In an otherwise uneventful weekend I observed something I least expected. I'm still sorting through my reaction and subsequent emotions. I'll elaborate....

I live in a newer development in a western suburb of St. Louis. Lots of kids, SUV's and parents mortgaged within an inch of their lives. We've lived here 4 years this week. I think there's about 60 homes in the subdivision. There are at least 4 families that I know of that came here from the middle east....Pakistan, I believe. I don't know the families well but see them walking often. Mostly friendly and reserved. They still wear the traditional colorful robes. The older women still cover their heads with scarves. The men are in charge and from what I can tell the women do all the work in the home and literally do not have voice. Yet, they are still deeply committed to their culture. I wonder what they think living among ours. One of the bunko girls has a son, who plays with Muhammoud. Muhammoud's two uncles began the process of having arranged marriages this year. One of my other neighbors felt the need to step in when an older man slapped his wife in the face while standing in the driveway. It has been an interesting dilemma for me. I am not racist and try very hard to practice tolerance and be non-judgemental. To me, that means respecting another's point of view, even when it doesn't match my own. But can I respect a culture that includes domestic violence? What would I have done? Do I look the other way in the name of respecting someone's culture? I can't assume that the beautiful women I see walking up and down my block feel oppressed and unheard. But I am dying to find out. But there's so much more to it than the distance of 25 feet or so from my porch to the sidewalk they stand on. So, that's been my internal dialog over the last few years.
Until this weekend.
I'm walking in a tank top, shorts and flip flops. Enough clothes to be decent walking up to Bunko Amy's house to get my Pampered Chef stuff. I am met by two women wearing the black garb of the stereotypical middle east. All black robes, covered head, covered face....the only thing showing are the slits of their eyes. Likely from overseas, visiting some family members I realized later. First...this was a little surprising to me. I needed to quickly recover and decide how I might address these ladies in like the next 7 seconds. Somehow my brain surmised that I was not going to get much feedback and that's so unexpected in our society. But I figured, I'll Pollyanna my way through this like I do mostly everything else. Said "hello, how are you" with a big smile. And looked them straight in the eyes. Now most encounters like this with strangers involve very brief eye contact and a smile of acknowledgement in the US, correct? WELL, there was an older woman carrying a little boy..and that was her response. But, the second younger woman, did not say anything but caught my eye and held it. Like she sensed my unease and I swear I heard in my head, "I am just like you". And then she nodded and that was it. Was a powerful moment for me. In the span of about 10 seconds.

What are your most powerful moments? Sometimes they're hard to put into words.

Well, my sinuses finally cleared so I feel like a human again. Not much in the log due to heat and disease. 45 min. bike Sat. morning. 1 hour run sunday afternoon and got a little overheated. Feeling better today so off to the races in St. Charles tonight!

10 Comments:

Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

That's a tough situation. How do you balance another culture with your own? In all honesty, I don't think I would intervene over a slap. About the only thing you could do is call the police. But to what end? The cops would come. The woman would most likely say nothing. And that's the end of that. Perhaps their children will grow differently, being exposed to the American culture.

My most powerful moment? I'll have to think about that one.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

My biggest contemplation this weekend: Do animals live in constant fear? I saw about 10 chipmunks all scurry when I was running on a trail. Not a life I'd want to live.

I'm not as a deep as my dear friend, Erin! I'm always amazed at the path your life takes you and who you meet.

3:41 PM  
Blogger PJ said...

I don't know what adjective I'd use to describe my "moment"...

It would be seeing my dad die and taking his last breath. It was definitely not peaceful and at the moment he died, it actually looked like he was tormented or in pain. His whole body tensed up and he had such a grimace on his face. It was a fitting finale to the horrible final 15 mos. he spent on this earth.

I was glad to be there as he met his maker, but it was painful and quite unpleasant to be a witness to that.

It was a huge "life moment" and powerful, but so many other things also.

I should note, though...many people don't get the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones and I had many moments of good bye with my dad and for that I'm very fortunate.

9:33 PM  
Blogger TWORIVERSWALRUS said...

Gut-wrenching story above. I can't relate or even imagine.

I do have a personal, powerful moment though. It happened maybe two years ago.

Our oldest daughter (who was about 18 months old at the time) had recently started sleeping in her own bed. We practice cosleeping. So she slept in our room prior to this. Anyway, on Friday night, we drove up to my parents home in Manitowoc. She fell asleep in the car. So I brought her upstairs to her room at my parents' house. She slept right through the process, and slept through the night. However, we were cognizant to the fact that this was a strange room to her. And she may be scared if she were to wake up in the night.

The next morning, 9:00 came, and she still wasn't up. This was unusual, but not unheard of. Nonetheless, I went up to check on her. We'd left the door open. So I peaked my head in. And when I did, these little blue eyes perked up and the hugest smile came across that little girl's face. It became clear that she had been up at least for a little while. And although she hadn't been crying, she was obviously a little bit scared, not knowing where she was. But once she saw me, she knew that everything was fine.

That was my moment. At that point, I knew that I'd done my parenting role correctly.

9:05 AM  
Blogger HappyMama said...

This topic comes up a lot in society, especially when it comes to certain cultures where vaginal mutilation is common. I guess you have to decide if there is a spectrum, as Burt is suggesting (by saying a slap isn't something he would report - and I am not agreeing or disagreeing with him), for violence.

Perhaps consulting with an official would help shed some light on this.

In regards to powerful moments, I have always been particulary affected by feeling fetal movement in my belly. I love being pregnant, and that experience is the epitome of the entire forty weeks. It's all mine, and no one else will ever feel my babies moving inside of them. Other than that, I have not yet had my most powerful moment.

9:15 AM  
Blogger mimikatemom said...

I'd have to lean toward HappyMama in that maybe I haven't had my MOST powerful moment yet. But here's to hoping I'll be paying attention. Thanks for sharing your awesome stories...it's the good stuff.
Paula, you witnessed something amazing and I hope that's the hardest thing you ever have to do. He fought every step of the way and was taken too soon. My memories of him are all good.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Brad Strouf said...

This is some excellent, very deep conversation. I know Erin well enough that I'm not surprised by it though.

Domestic violence is a crime in America. Respecting cultural differences is a politically correct stance to take. Allowing physical assault is not politcally correct and it's existence is a violation of every state's statutes.

My youngest son has a congenital heart defect that needed correction surgically. Seeing a two year old child wheeled into an operating room at Children's Hospital is my defining moment on earth. Tubes sticking out of him, the look of terror in his eyes, not something any parent should have to go through. I'm relieved to say he is doing fine and by all accounts is a normal, healthy child...but, that's my moment.

12:09 PM  
Blogger HappyMama said...

I just have to add (maybe to justify my previous comment) that I used to work in a Domestic Violence shelter and I, myself, was involved in relationship with a "not nice" guy. I have seen the spectrum. But the point is, it all falls under one umbrella. And it's all wrong.

On the other hand, I also understand the discomfort and unease that comes with reporting something and stepping into someone else's business. Throwing the cultural aspect in there only makes it so much harder.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Greg Pagel said...

My powerful moments tend to be quite simple... I remember once riding with my wife & kids on I-43 and everyone was in a good mood and there was a good tune on the radio and the weather was nice and I had this very distinctive feeling of being able to enjoy really being "in the moment." I knew it wouldn't last, the feeling of contentment would disappear as it always does, replaced by fear, or discontent, or anger, and then it would come back, yin, yang, yin, yang.... It was a moment of insight, which stuck with me. Very, very rarely I've been able to dive into reality like this. It's nice.

My kids have always been very healthy so far, so I haven't had anything as gut-crushing as what Brad descibed, yet. I'm glad to hear it worked out well, though, my brother!

I had one experience similar to the one Erin described which changed my perspective on things. It's a long story (and a funny one), so I'll save it for later... maybe I'll put on MySpace tonight.

In the meantime, Erin, here's a quote for you from Paramananda's "Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation," a book I think you huys would like:

"The simplest object is pregnant with reality."

I like that one!

12:00 PM  

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