Monday, September 17, 2012

An Act of Faith.

September, 1987

The tires of our U-Haul brushed against the curb as my roommate, Dave, and I pulled up to our new home, a duplex in Seattle's Central District. We walked up the porch steps, opened the door and gazed at the narrow stairway which led to our top-floor unit.

"This is going to suck," one of us muttered.

After pulling up the cargo hatch to discover a freshly decapitated philodendron, I craned my neck to see a strange figure approaching and stopping next to our truck's ramp. Tall and lean, he clasped his hands together as if praying. He wore a loosely fitting beige tunic and pants, a skull cap and sandals. A long, black beard flecked with grey nearly concealed his sun-leathered skin.

"I help you, please." He looked up at us, his wide grin revealing the absence of two teeth.

Dave and I glared at each other skeptically as most sheltered white men in their twenties might do when faced with a stranger's generosity, especially one who looked so out of place to us.

The man rested his open hand over his sternum and gently bowed. "Raheem," he offered. We hopped down from the truck and introduced ourselves, extending our hands. He shook them robustly and repeated, "I help you."

"Okay, yeah, sure. Thank you," I said.

Within seconds, Raheem was hefting a heavy box of books down the ramp and up the stairs. He continued carrying the heaviest objects—he even tried to haul a couch by himself— and easily equaled Dave and my output combined. An hour later, the cargo area sat empty, all our possessions stacked in our new place. Only then did Raheem stop.

I brought down a six-pack of Pepsi and offered one to Raheem, his knees propped up high where he sat on the curb resting.

"No no please." He waved his hand and a drop of sweat rolled off his nose. Dave and I popped open our soda and sat down next to the benevolent stranger. We asked him a series of questions, but an embarrassed grin washed across his face. He didn't understand.

Raheem reached his long fingers into a breast pocket and removed a folded piece of paper, He unfolded it and handed it to me:

Hello,

My name is Raheem. My family and I came to the United States from Afghanistan after our village was bombed by the Soviets. Our home was destroyed and two of my children were killed.

I formerly worked in food services at the Kabul Airport, where I became acquainted by an American pilot. After hearing of my family's misfortunes, he offered to sponsor my family as refugees in America.

I am currently enrolled in English and catering classes at South Seattle Community College.

God bless you.


"Wow," I said, immediately knowing Raheem wouldn't know the meaning of such a word. I handed him back his information sheet and he smiled, tucking safely back in his pocket.

Raheem stood and shook our hands again "Goodbye."

Still stunned by this man's gesture, we watched him amble slowly away, not a shred of urgency in his gait. A large oval of sweat darkened the back of his beige tunic.

"Thank you!" we yelled. "Good luck!"

He turned and faced us, clasping his hands and bowing as he had done an hour before. As Raheem retreated down the street and disappeared, Dave and I shook our heads and looked at each other, wondering if we'd see this man again.

We did. Three months later, on a chilly December evening, the doorbell rang. Not used to drop-in guests, I opened the front door tentatively, peaking around in case imminent danger required any kind of hasty maneuver.

Raheem stood on the porch in the cold, wearing the same clothes I'd seen him in before, smiling the same incredible gap-toothed smile. In front of him, he balanced a fully decorated Christmas tree—ornaments, lights, tinsel, even a stand to hold it. "Meddy Cdismuss!" he laughed. His strong arm held it out to me and I invited him in, pulling his offering awkwardly through the doorway.

Unbelievable.

In light of all the ugliness that's been happening, I just wanted to relate my personal account of a man I encountered twenty-five years ago, a man who endured unspeakable hardships, yet one whose goodness will forever live in my heart.

They're not all terrorists.

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