This week the Sunday Scribblings prompt is on regrets.
Regrets - Got any? Things you wish you'd done differently? Things you wish you'd said or not said? Things you want to be sure to do and say now so that you don't end up with regrets?
Here's my story.
In January of 1986 I enrolled as a transfer student at SUNY StonyBrook. I was lucky to find housing on campus in the dorm for international students and became fast friends with a group of men and women from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. We ate together, played endless hours of backgammon, studied into the wee hours, and talked of all manner of things.To read more on regrets, visit Sunday Scribblings.
On the morning of January 28th, we were gathered together in the lounge waiting for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. As we watched in shock as the events unfolded, one young man (American) shouted, "Those damn Arabs are behind this!" (Though there was no 9-11 to blame for this hostility, the Iran hostage crisis and Beirut barracks bombing were fresh in the minds of many.) As the faces of my friends fell, so did my heart, and yet, I said nothing. Within minutes I was sitting at the table alone. My friends were gone, and they would not return. EVER.
In the days and weeks that passed they avoided me. They did not make eye contact, left when I came into the lounge or kitchen, and did not sit near me in class. I was devastated. While I did not make the malicious comment, I was complicit by failing to stand up for my friends.
Twenty two years later, I still feel the same heaviness in my heart when I think of this moment. However, my guilt over my behavior has shaped me in ways I never could have imagined. As a teacher, it fed my desire to teach children about the world outside the one they live in. It helped me to recognize the transformative power of books and stories to teach us about those unlike ourselves. It continues to drive my search for books to use in instruction that express the range of human experience.
Fast forward to 2001. Two months after 9-11 I spent a week in Denmark reviewing a study abroad program. On the flight home I sat next to a young couple from India, an old couple from Albania, and two young Pakistani men. Few on the flight were friendly to them. However, I spent some time talking to the Indian couple who spoke a fair amount of English. I helped the couple from Albania fill out their customs forms using some mixture of hand signals and head nodding in the absence of a shared language. The young Pakistani men seemed wary of strangers, so all I could do was smile. Once we landed and were deplaning, one of the young men got down my bag and said, "Thank you." I couldn't figure out what he was thanking me for, so I asked why. He said he was grateful for the kindness I had shown to those around me. I remember tearing up and responding, "We will never have peace if we don't see the good in others and act accordingly." In my heart, however, I was thinking of the friends I had disappointed so many years before.
I suppose I shall always carry this regret with me, but since it has made me a kinder, stronger person, having to reflect on it every now and then doesn't seem such a bad thing.