Sometimes I do things with very little thought. I rely on my instinct. My behavior makes no sense at the time, but things pan out much better than I ever could have expected.
This is what happens when you don’t think too much.
Take last Wednesday, for instance.
Tim, Abby and I enjoyed story time at the library. Afterward, Abby always likes to see the puffer fish one more time before we head home. I took a seat near the Leggo table while she and Tim played oceanographers.
I noticed a family of five looking a little disillusioned. They sat quietly keeping to themselves. I overhead a woman (much like me) say, “Come on. I’ll take you there.” and leave with the adult male (who it turns out was Simeon, the father of the family.)
The family’s younger children, Jude and Esther, began to play with the wooden trains and stacked Leggos. The mother spoke to her older son who looked to be in about eighth grade.
The mother was wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Bronx” on it.
Here was my chance.
Previously, I shared with you about a season in our life when we took school groups to NYC for spring break. We did so for seven years. I can always chat about our NYC experiences and given half a chance, I can get people talking.
At this point, I felt compelled to speak to the woman. Why?
No one else was speaking to them and no one sat by them. Oh, please…..Because they had suitcases with them (why would they have suitcases in a library?) or the color of their skin? Either reason is ridiculous.
The mother’s hair was awesome, coiffed up high and a pretty black color. Her open face and easy smile were charming.
I struck up a conversation with her first speaking about her hair, because I honestly thought it was terrific.
I moved closer to speak to Falila and our conversation lasted about fifteen minutes. Turns out, Joel, her eighth grade son had qualified for the junior Olympics which were being held here in Lawrence at the new Rock Chalk park track.
How cool! I congratulated him, asking when he was racing. Falila said he would race on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
Falila had a wonderful accent (she certainly didn’t sound like a New Yorker) and I asked her where she was from originally.
Nigeria– they were first generation immigrants.
I was struck by Falila’s sweet countenance, her authenticity and the ease in which we chatted. Honestly, I felt like we had been friends for years.
My husband and I aren’t really good at retiring. We forget we can be spontaneous. We have a tendency to look toward the weekend for anything recreational or social.
Oh, we thought, we can go to Joel’s race. We are free to do so!
So we did. Wow, that was quite an experience.
We are arts people. We aren’t very aware of sports. Generally, I don’t even know which teams are in this year’s Super Bowl. Please don’t hold this against me…
These kids as young as twelve are tremendous athletes! We were so impressed. They were good sports and helped each other. They cheered for one another and congratulated the winners of each heat. During one race, a girl tripped and fell. Four others quickly returned to make sure she was unharmed. Impressive.
Joel did wonderfully for his first Jr. Olympics competition. He didn’t win his heat, but his parents were supportive and encouraging of Joel’s efforts and that’s all that matters.
The story gets better.
As we left the competitions, I asked the Afere family if they would like to have lunch with us on Saturday. We enjoyed speaking with them and wanted more conversation with them.
You understand, these are total strangers, right?
Now, you are probably wondering why I would do such a thing.
I am sick and tired of people being treated poorly.
I can’t fix the refugee crisis, nor the Muslim ban but I can be kind to a family of immigrants in a tough spot. I can be friendly and welcoming.
Please understand this family was independent and completely self reliant. They came to the states all by themselves. Simeon is an engineer, gainfully employed as an inspector of buildings. Falila is a stay at home mom, but she has an accounting degree.
They didn’t need our help or hospitality. I merely offered it.
You see, Joel was here without his track team or his coach. He qualified for the competition only three weeks ago. By then, there were very few air line tickets for a family of five to fly together. Their only alternative was to take a bus. This sweet family spent 30 hours riding a Greyhound bus clear across the country from NYC.
That’s a family with fortitude.
The reason they were stranded at the library? Simeon reserved a rental car and when he called to pick it up, the company stated they had no such reservation.
Their hotel was in Lenexa which is thirty miles away. They were truly stranded.
Later in the afternoon, it all worked out and they were able to rent another car and get themselves around the area the rest of the weekend.
The Afere family came to lunch and stayed for three hours. My mother always told me if people stay a long time at your party, then they are having a good time.
I filled them with a typical American lunch–turkey and roast beef sandwiches, chips, yummy pistachio fluff salad and brownies. The children didn’t eat much of it, because they are used to their mother’s Nigerian food, understandably. Sliced apple seemed to be a hit as was ice cream, but isn’t it always?
Over lunch, we talked about the U.S., the fact that there is no social welfare program in Nigeria, their experiences living in NYC for ten years and the stressors of living there, what they want for their children and what was most important to them.
Have you ever inspired someone? Have you helped them dream?
It seems the longer they had been here, the more the Aferes liked the idea of moving away from the city– maybe Texas, Florida or somewhere Simeon’s engineering company would transfer him?
Or maybe the mid west? They liked it here, the friendliness of the people and the natural beauty of Kansas which many people never even notice.
Tim showed Simeon a realty site in Columbia, MO where we lived for thirty years. We aren’t as familiar with Lawrence as we are with Columbia.
We think Columbia is a terrific place to raise your children. Every parent wants their child to have a good education and Columbia can provide this. We urged the Aferes to give it some thought and keep us abreast of their decision. It was heart warming to help such a great family.
We are not experts nor do we have many experiences with an immigrant family.
But we have one thing in common–we are Americans and we want the best for our family.
Simple as that.
I challenge you to do the same. The next time you see a family who looks lost, frazzled or needing assistance ask them if you can help them. They may not need your help, but it’s worth the effort.
Don’t think about it. Trust your instincts. Take a chance.
Be the person your momma raised you to be–friendly and kind. Show some hard working, determined newcomers what it really means to be an American.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DeborahBaldwin.net
I’d love to hear from you.