It wasn’t long before we turned to the more meaty matters of this world. It couldn’t be avoided after the Paris and San Bernardino Bombings. We would discuss the heart of the world and how madness plagued mankind. I sat on my comfy warm couch sipping my $5.10 venti-skinny-vanilla-latte, in the safety of my livingroom, and he in his base, or tank or resting while on a mission sipping his monster drink – only for me to say “you shouldn’t drink those, they are bad for you and could kill you.” His smile was amused, his silence speaking volumns as he sipped away saying nothing.
About a year ago through the wonders of social media, a friend serving in Afghanistan and the cross connected world that we all share, I made a friend.
Our opening conversations were random, sometimes ridiculous, with a hint of curiosity, but always genuine. Every so often, events in life, would spark up those topics of life which seems to have infected the world, and we would talk. Sometimes we would share the same view and other times our answers differed according to our different worlds, culture and beliefs.
He was an interpreter in a now forgotten war and a respected soldier of 12 years who fights the battles our kids play on their video games. He is the real thing. A man of honour and integrity. After the US and coalition forces shipped out of his country, he remains fighting – left behind. His people who have been left behind in what seems a never ending war. He fights for his people, and his enemy are those we read about in our news feed. “War” he said, “is very bad. I have seen enough for five lifetimes. My heart and my brain is dead. I’m the living breathing walking dead.” It was soon after we started talking, our conversations became listening moments and I began to learn his heart journey.
At first the subjects were funny. He’d ask questions like when he first was an interpreter, how different slang words in English confused him. Everyone’s need to use the F-word every second word made no sense when trying to translate; what did sex have to do with everything? I laughed and laughed imagining the internal conflict and confusion he must have faced only to counter with “Do your toilets really work like that? Squatting?”
The initial shock I felt after learning that he and his family did not celebrate birthdays’ took about a week to get over – I mean, who doesn’t celebrate birthdays, right? At first I thought it was a religious thing but that wasn’t true, there were many reasons mixed with a bit of culture, family choice but mostly poverty – birthdays were a luxury that didn’t even register as being a thing to do in his family at least. Being somewhat of a birthday fan, I promised him that if I ever got to meet him we were to have a cake for every year he was born because he was special and God celebrates his being therefor we will celebrate. He laughed at my absurdity, but I assured him I meant every word. Of course this would only happen once I figured out how old he was exactly, I had to do some calculating as his calendar was completely different than ours.
We continued to carry on with a genuine heart and an ear to hear. I’d cry about the struggle with my kids and he’d give me perspective of food, shelter, clothing, education and health among other things I had lost sight of. From the extremes of once being homeless after returning to Afghanistan – his parents having fled to Iran during the Soviet Afghan war to the struggles of his childhood, to this day has been devastating Just recently his dad falling victim to a terrorist attack on the mosque he attends – he is alive today. (UPDATED AUG 2017) or the phone call I received from him one night during a mission when his world seemed to be crashing. Think American sniper scene when the wife is on the phone and her husband is attacked and all she can hear is gunfire – that was me. Then having no one to talk to about that because those I did talk to wouldn’t know what to say.
So again, he reminded me that my kids are loved. They are safe. They have a roof over their heads. They are blessed to be in a country with freedoms and hope. It was then he said something that shifted my focus and sunk deep. When he spoke, it was tenderness and care; “Jennel, I know without a doubt you love God and your heart is good. You have peace. I know this. I can feel it when we talk. Gods not going to leave your kids. Trust in that.”
There wasn’t a subject or topic that we didn’t discuss. If you can think of it, we talked about it, yes even the ugly ones we like to tag as being apart of their culture alone when it actually hits closer to home – in fact right next door for some. Religion. Evolution. What happens when we die. Child marriage. Child rape. Terrorism. Women in each of our cultures and the roles that they play in society and within the marriage and the various degrees within depending on region, background and the church. Head coverings. Wife abuse and stoning…. and many many more.
The willingness to step outside our comfort zones and debate the matters of this world was comforting and laced with patience – albeit mixed with his wonderment of my absurd personality and grotesquely underestimated sense of humor. Which then followed with times of shock at my bluntness and flat out hyped opinionated flare for the dramatic. If I had an opinion, I shared it. Sometimes the listening was more jabs and pokes on my end to see what he would say. To say I tested him is an understatement. I’m sure there have been a few eye rolls but I think he enjoyed it. In fact, I know it. Sometimes he would say with a chuckle “in my country women don’t talk like that.” To which I would respond matter-of-factly “Ya, well block me……or deal with it” followed with a flashy toothy grin. He liked that I was a fighter. I stood for something. I didn’t give in to the masses. He too, has a problem with the masses in which direct the ugly subjects in his world’s way of thinking. When we stripped away the assumptions and fear, we had a lot in common or at least a lot of the same views but from a different angle like a reflection in a mirror with two different realities or how a coin with two sides is still a coin.
Most times the conversations were calm and in genuine friendship…..and then there were times where my pride and indignant pestering, poked at the heavy subjects of our cultural differences, while I admit they were cloaked in fear-based prejudices, trying my hardest to test his ever calm response….and yet he persevered with tact and dignity. He never once lost his cool. I’ve seen him cry. I’ve heard fear in his voice. I’ve heard the calm manner when he listened to my stories, but he never once lost his cool. His manner of being upset can be likened to that of a teddy bear or as my daughter would say “he’s kind of emotional for a man – let alone a soldier – isn’t he?” A trait I’ve come to be fond of and different then that if the atypical male in western culture.
Yes, my children have spoken with him. I too have met his family and spoken with his sisters, his mother, and waved to his dad. They are most intrigued with my daughters hair calling her Gul Aftab or sunflower, and often express concern for her safety because it is so beautiful and rare within their world. Again, after having spoken for about a year at this point, I understood the nature of their question and the reasoning behind their concern. I smiled and reassured them she was safe, in school and loves to play soccer.
So why am I writing about him?
He’s has changed my perspective and shifted my sight onto a more deeper understanding of who I am. Our conversations have taught me to listen, to offer understanding and most of all that we are all created in the image of God and all seek a desire to know and be known. We all have these deep recesses within our heart that define who we’re are when life demands action, we are challenged in diversity. Do we take up this challenge or do we hide in our shame, fear and assumption?
Or do we ask questions? Do we seek understanding?
Do we get to know another’s heart journey thereby growing in our own?
All these things and more I have had to ask myself and learn about my being and identity as a woman, a Canadian and a human being.
If you want to know why you believe something or what you base your foundational truths upon, whatever that may be, then engage in conversations with another whose world is juxtaposed to yours – which basically includes everyone on this planet in one way or another. Challenge yourself and get to know how to have those uncomfortable conversations.
Too many people shape their world within the confines of fear and scream truth. God is so much bigger than anything in this world, there’s no reason for fear and real truth leads to life.
Get to know those around you. Be silent and listen. Get to know the depth of yourself by standing up for your truths in conversation but staying soft in love for others. Stand firm in kindness and be fierce.
Firstly, If prayer is a part of your life, I ask that you would pray for my friend. Without going into detail, his life makes our life seem elementary. Otherwise, if prayer is not in your daily routine, keep him in your thoughts.
Secondly, have those conversations with others differ from yours and gain understanding. Life is much more abundant than when we stand stagnant, unchallenged in our own little world.
Lastly. Stay true to the truths that which define you but do so in gentleness. You might just make a friend. Be smart. Be safe. Be authentic.