Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Band of Gold

This isn't my story to tell. I have debated whether or not I should pass it on. As you can see, I have decided to put pen to paper, so to speak. This story is too beautiful to be a faint echo in a classroom.

As a high school history teacher, moving into post-WWII history always came with a family history assignment. I firmly believe that you can't appreciate where you are unless you know where you have been. While teaching in Sweden, I tasked each student to interview grandparents and parents (or someone of that generation). There were set interview questions as beginning guidelines, and I did this in the hope of making the facts in our textbooks intermingle with the flesh and blood experiences of my students and their families.

Because I taught at a private-ish school, we had a very mixed student population. Mainly native-born Swedes, but quite a few students whose families had come to Sweden as refugees. Some of them were actually native born Swedes, others had fled from the Middle East for religious or political reasons. I learned that many of the students had terrible pasts which made this assignment painful. I worked with students on an individual basis with any degree of flexibility necessary to complete the assignment.

The story I want to share with you comes from one of these students. I do not know how long he had been in Sweden, or under what circumstance his family entered. In fact, I had not known the status of his family until he told me. I had not taken it upon myself to assume a thing about his name or skin color.

He came to me in the teacher work room one day to tell me of how difficult it had been to interview his parents. His parents had never shed much light on their lives before coming to Sweden or the circumstances under which they left their homeland. He had begun to ask questions, and because it was for a school assignment it was safe to ask of such things. It wasn't a conversation to criticise or pass judgement, he was merely doing as his teacher asked.

It came to pass during the conversation that he learned of his parents journey. I do not remember from which country they came, but they were detained at the border and harassed by the guards. The guards demanded all of their money. All of their valuable possessions. They took the wedding rings from his parents. His mother begged and shrieked for the guards to show mercy to allow her to keep her wedding ring. After much pleading, the guards handed her ring back. His father was too proud to beg, and though the guards taunted him with this symbol of his marriage, he refused to bend to their will. They were finally let through. The guards kept his wedding ring.

My student had always seen that his mother wore a wedding ring and that his father did not. Internally, he blamed his father's culture, religion, whatever made sense to a boy growing up in a country so different from that of his family. The truth of the matter was that his father, in grieving the loss of his wedding ring refused to buy another one to replace it. Because nothing could replace it.

My 17 year-old student was near tears when he told me this. He had never known this side of his father, and he thanked me for the project and this opportunity to open the door into the lives of his parents to bring them closer together. What do you say to something like that? I felt so humbled.

I would like to think that he is out there, somewhere, with a stronger love and appreciation for his family. To know that sometimes questions bring closure. Sometimes questions bring healing. I hope this was the beginning of a bond that has only gotten stronger with time.


Joe said...

I understand how the student feels/felt. I've never been close to my family, and never knew it was 'okay' to talk to my parents about stuff like that, as dumb as it sounds now. Watching wife interact with her family hurts, in the sense that I could have had that, had I known it was possible. They talk about everything, have conversations and bond. I didn't. Sad.

Faiqa said...

What a beautiful story -- thank you for letting me know it was here. :)

Gypsy said...

That was so moving.

Rassles said...

So...you never know until you ask.

A Free Man said...

Heartrending story, NATUI.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

@Joe: Many family members have been complicit in keeping a code of silence about certain things in our family. It may be you didn't know you could talk because maybe it wasn't possible?

@Faiqa: You are very welcome!

@Gypsy: I get emotional every time I replay this in my head. He was such a sweet kid.

@Rassles: It is true. But sometimes you ask, and the wrath incurred is not worth the answer.

@AFM: Agreed.

Blues said...

Wonderful NATUI. I would have been humbled too.