We’d eaten dinner and were ready to walk out the door to go shoe shopping that ordinary Sunday evening. I was checking the price of airline tickets, and Miryam was finishing her makeup. You knocked, and I answered the door—to your surprise. You turned down my offer of tea. This was no social visit, I sensed.
You sat, stiff, on the other side of the room, and waited for Miryam. You didn’t know who I was, or what I was doing here in this Homeland-in-America home. Your sentiments were reciprocated. My few words in your language weren’t coming out right, and I struggled to understand your dialect, muddled by your lack of teeth.
So we sat. Sometimes silence is golden. This wasn’t.
Miryam came. The formalities were terse, and then the two of you began to argue.
“Nay, Auntie, nay. Nay. Nay. It’s not going to work. We already ate. She’s my guest. We cannot come.”
Strange, that you would drop in on a Sunday evening and insist on stealing a guest for dinner. My poor brain was culturally confused, intensified by lack of situational context.
There was a pause of exasperation, and I jumped in.
“Miryam, what’s going on?”
She told me how she and her husband had helped you many times. How her husband recently agreed to take you to your doctor’s appointment on Tuesday. How, to reciprocate, you’d come to say that you’d made dinner for him, her, and their son — and now me! — and if we wouldn’t come eat it, you’d bring it to us.
Miryam told me how you were worried about your appointment Tuesday, because it wouldn’t be proper for her husband to go inside with you, and she worked that day so couldn’t accompany you. She told me that you’d never been to this location before, you couldn’t speak English, you didn’t know how to use a phone. But she couldn’t do anything about it. There’d be the phone translation system and your sixth-grade daughter on spring break. You’d have to get along.
What I knew of you so far wasn’t much, and this wasn’t the most positive of introductions. As the two of you resumed your argument, I asked God what I was to do. While I wasn’t exactly free Tuesday, I could get myself to be free, if necessary.
But this situation didn’t belong to me. I didn’t know it’s history, or your temperament. Was it right for me to get involved?
Who are you? I wondered. Who really are you? I tried to imagine where you may have come from. What your story may be. Then I looked into your eyes. I noticed the bags underlying them, the wrinkles in your brown forehead. I wondered how old you were. Could you be 64? Then your eyes broke contact with Miryam’s, and looked straight into mine.
In that instant,
You gave me the gift of your pain-aged eyes.
You told me the broken story of your life.
You trusted me with your toothless smile.
“Miryam,” I interrupted, “I’ll take her Tuesday.”
She looked over in surprise, “Why? You can’t even talk with her.”
My response was baffling: “I don’t know. I’m just going to do it.”
Auntie, I took you that day, and I’ve taken you again since. You love me so much. Every time you look at me, your eyes pour love over me. The first time I took you, I brought boiled eggs because your appointments spanned lunchtime. The next time I took you, you brought eggs — a lot of them — meant all for me. What I didn’t eat, you sent home with me! Your eggs of love.
You insisted on paying me. At first, I didn’t like it at all. You don’t have the means for this, and anyhow I’m doing it of kindness. I tried hard to give it all back, then at least half. Then I realized you needed to pay me, for the sake of your dignity. So I humbly received it. I reinvested your money in an annual pass to the Arboretum, though, and Miryam and I are going to take you there this spring. I hope you’ll be blessed.
After you’d left Miryam’s place that first Sunday night, she told me your story. You’d been hit by a rocket in an air-raid on your village seven years ago, and your stomach and hands are still deformed. You suffer from severe headaches. Your family has been in Iran and Turkey these last years and now here for eight months, though your children remain in each of those places. Among all the many Homeland-refugees in your apartment complex, your forty-six year story is the most tragic.
We came for a second dinner. We didn’t have a choice.
You served us. You loved us.
Already you’ve given me many gifts-in-kind, but most of all, Auntie…
Thank you for giving me the gift of your eyes.
When have you stood humbled, realizing that what you have to give is little in comparison to what you’re honored to be receiving?