They met in college and dated for their final two years. He was a long way from home. His parents didn’t have enough money to visit during the school year so he never got the chance to introduce her to them. Consequently, the surprise was even bigger, the disappointment greater.
They fell deeply in love. They studied together and were rarely apart, except on weekends when she went home to work. She never mentioned him to her family, afraid that they would ask her about him and knowing how they would react. They would want to see pictures and she knew that they would demand an immediate breakup. He learned about her and about her background. He worked to understand her beliefs and her culture, how she had developed her opinions. They adored each other in spite of their vast differences.
He told her of his own childhood and how his had only first been exposed to her culture at sixteen, how he had kept shaking the young boy’s hand, fascinated, wanting to touch him, to see how his skin felt, trying to discover a difference. His family was deeply embedded in its own culture and he had rarely had the chance to get to know a different one. And now, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with someone so completely outside of his own world.
Graduation day arrived. His parents and grandparents came to the ceremony, so proud to see their son in cap and gown. Her parents were there as well, excited for their girl who was the first to get a university degree. Their families still had not met, or heard of the relationship.
They decided to spring the wonderful surprise of their engagement on graduation day. Both were nervous, knowing that they might face some negative reactions and yet forever hopeful that everything would go well.
The plan was to meet at a local restaurant, sit at adjoining tables and introduce each other. He arrived last, family in tow, and took the table next to hers. He brushed her shoulder as he walked by, smiling at her. His parents noticed and shook their heads as they sat. In a loud whisper, his grandmother asked “How can you know someone like that? And why are they allowed in this restaurant?” He was shocked at her disgust. His parents nodded in agreement, barely containing their anger.
Finally, though, he signaled to her that it was time. They both stood and moved together, ready to make the announcement. Both family tables became silent as they watched them take each other’s hands. “Mom, Dad,” he said. “This is Sarah. I’ve been dating her for the last two years and we are engaged to be married.”
A shocked silence followed. His grandmother stood, almost knocking over the table. “You will NOT do this as long as I am alive,” she shouted. “My grandson will never have a Liberal as a wife!”
Her family stood. Her father sneered at his grandmother and said, “Don’t worry. It will never happen. Your kind will never share our table, our home or a scrap of food with us.”
They turned and hurried out of the restaurant, their daughter in tow. She looked back with tears in her eyes. That was the last that they saw of each other for many years.
“Seriously?” you ask.
Think about it. In our haste to make sure that everyone has to get along with everyone else, we seem to have forgotten that we are all essentially human, that opinions divide us far too often. In fact, they divide us far more often than race, culture and country. Amazing, isn’t it? And sort of silly in my own personal universe.
With that in mind, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays.