Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Customizing a presentation…

I was invited to a lovely Muslim weekend school on Sunday.

But I went with a lot of trepidation.

The organizers asked me to do a presentation that’s designed for grades three to twelve, for very little kids, including kindergarteners. The presentation was The Roses in My Carpets.

That’s tough!

Because it includes the concepts of refugees, and bombs and war.

For kindergarteners???

It’s kind of too much. And when I said as much to the organizers they still asked me to do it anyway, so I thought of how to fulfill their request.

The way I’ve designed my presentations, they’re definitely geared for certain age groups. Sometimes it’s because they contain issues that are too provocative for younger ages, but mostly it’s because the little kids won’t necessary get the depth of what I’m really talking about.

So how do you change a presentation like The Roses in My Carpets so that it will appeal to the younger ones?

I find it comes down to third person.

Third person point of view is hard for me. I seem to naturally write in first person. “I did this… I did that”

But little kids find it easier to understand if you said the boy did this or the girl did that, because then they can see the separation between you, as the narrator, and the characters in the story.

So I took the same powerpoint that I had developed, with its visuals from the book, and I began by telling the story of The Roses in My Carpets in third person.

I began as usual, by talking about what a refugee is. I did a bit of introduction, then I started telling the story along with the powerpoint slides of book’s pictures.

“Every night this boy, see? He has this same dream that jets are chasing him and his mother and his little sister.

Then he wakes up, and he realizes that he’s safe. In the mud house. In the refugee camp. He can hear his mother and sister breathing nearby…”

It worked a little too well!

You see the problem is I’ve become immune to the emotional impact of the story when I tell it in the normal way.

That tends to happen when you’ve done a presentation enough times.

When I first started, I couldn’t even read the book without crying, and I definitely couldn’t tell the story out loud!

But after sixteen years of presenting it, probably about five thousand times, yeah, I don’t cry.

But now, changing it to third person, the poignancy was threatening to overwhelm me again.

It was kind of embarrassing.

A number of times, I found myself choking up, fighting back the tears, all because I was coming at the story from third person.

But, alhamdu lillah, I got through it.

I told the story, and once I got to the slides of the refugee camp I visited in Peshawar, I was on safe ground.

The kids loved to see the way these Afghans had lived in mud houses.

And even though there were many little kindergarteners, they remained engaged.

There was only one little girl who started rolling around on the floor dangerously close to the projector cables so I had to tell her to move back.

Other than that, they were a wonderful audience, masha Allah.

Ended up selling tons of books! I’d taken extra, but I still ran out!

Alhamdu lillah, it was a lot of fun.

 

Taking cues from your Audience…

I did a group of kindergarteners today and they surprised me.

There were some kids in the bunch that barely looked three and others that looked almost seven!

What a range!

I thought let me see how much of my Picture the Story presentation they can pick up on, and so I went ahead and started it.

Now the first group, I guess they were a bit more advanced, because they were actually getting the concept of inspiration and imagination.

And when it came time to tell Big Red Lollipop, they really got what I was saying.

The second group seemed to be a bit less mature.

I had to go slower with them.

I took my time, enunciating my words. Not overwhelming them.

I noticed two of the kids in the second group were even getting a bit agitated.

I always do Ruler of the Courtyard first. It’s a good introduction to the whole South Asian thing, but…it is a pretty intense story!

I mean the girl confronts, what she thinks is a snake, in the bath house!

The first group was fine with it. I didn’t see any of the kids getting anxious, but definitely in the second group, one kid had his hands pressed against the side of his face, and another kid was slowly withdrawing into his turtleneck jersey. He was pulling his head in, like a turtle, and peeking up at me, with just his eyes showing above the neck hole, and another kid, he was putting his hands over his ears.

I’m thinking he was responding to the noise level.

I’m pretty noisy.

But with kindergarteners,  you kind of have to be.

You need to drown out all their little nonsense talk, kind of scoop them up with the power of storytelling and take them on the ride with you!

Most of the kids were loving it, but at one point, he even went to hide behind his teacher. I thought, “Oh no. That’s not good.”

He wasn’t crying. He was still peeking at me. He was just scared. Even though Big Red Lollipop isn’t at all scary. He was getting nervous when I was talking about how Rubina was chasing me around the living room and dining room.

So even as I was telling the stories, I brought it down a notch and then another. I lowered the volume of my voice, and the effect on him came quickly.

He stopped putting his hands over his ears, and pretty soon, he’d rejoined the group in front of me.

I think this can only happen when you’re so familiar with the program that you can keep it going even as you’re actually watching the audience.

That’s what I do now.

For this audience I had to tone it down a bit.

Other audiences I have to amp it up.

It just depends.

But at the end of this second group, this blond kid at the back announced he wanted to give me a hug!

He weaved through all the other kids listening and wrapped his arms around me. Very carefully, I hugged him back.

And then the other kids started.

I felt mobbed at one point by these tiny little bodies.

Oh it was so cute!

Almost as much fun as it is dealing with teenagers!

A New Milestone of dubious merit…

Okay, I had always wondered how anyone could receive emails and not respond.

I thought these types of people had gotten ‘too big for their britches’.

I’ve always tried to respond to the emails I receive, even if it takes me a long time to get to them. The very least I do do, is at least respond in my head to any greetings they give me.

But for the first time I’m actually considering not responding to a query.

Thing is people seem to think I write Islamic books.

I don’t think I do.

I write books about Muslims.

There’s a difference.

I often have strong aspects of Islam in my books, but they are not, primarily, scholarly books. They are not religious texts.

I don’t ever pretend to be a scholar in Islam! Yikes! No way do I have those kinds of credentials.

I am a story maker. I make stories.

And because Islam is dear to me, and the world is filled with misunderstanding and conflicts between cultures, many of my stories serve a dual purpose of entertaining while at the same time illuminating Muslim culture and even tangentially dealing with some Islamic concepts within their cultural contexts.

But somehow certain Islamic publishers, publishers who are writing didactic stories to teach Muslim faith, have been contacting me to endorse them.

Before I was only getting a few requests here and there.

But now…

Wow.

And there’s a bit of a creep factor involved.

I feel like I shouldn’t even engage some of these people. I should completely avoid them.

And so, yeah, I’m considering not even responding.

Never thought I’d get to this point.

I’m going to be doing a skype visit this Friday morning insha Allah with some kids at a school in Brooklyn about career choices and I’ve been thinking about what it takes to make it as an author.

Thing is you need to have a number of ‘income streams’.

I know that sounds kind of like fishing, but hey, it may be the technical name for it.

There are times when the writing will dry up. When the books will not be working properly.

I seem to be going through a period like that, where I’m receiving a lot of rejections.

I could look at it in a very depressing mode, but I figure I must just be growing.

You know when you go through a growth spurt, nothing fits and you’re all awkward and gangly and bumping into things? Well that’s kind of like how some of my writing is going.

If I didn’t have the other streams going, then I’d probably be in a lot of trouble.

You need to have grants you apply for. They’ll help give you the funds to work out the kinks and get the writing going. Just received another Artist in Library grant for example, and that will provide three months of income come September to December, like it did last year.

For me, it has REALLY REALLY helped that I’m also a storyteller! Because I always, so far, alhamdu lillah, have had the storytelling and the presentations to fall back on.

Even though most all authors are suffering from a shortage of school presentations, I’ve been pretty fortunate because I still have been getting more than enough to keep me going.

Then there are the royalties and the foreign sales on past titles. Those cheques are very nice. Like finding money, sometimes a LOT!

And then, in Canada, there are the other found money sources, the ACCESS copyright and PLR cheques.

And then there are the book sales. I do sell my books when I visit schools and venues and you know what? It adds up.

It all adds up.

Got invited to do a storytelling gig in an underprivileged area on Wednesday afternoon. They weren’t offering a lot, but I said yes anyway.

I figured that even though it’s not a lot it’s still more than I’d make sitting home.

And you never know when a moment like that can lead to a story idea. You just never know.

This is definitely a field in which patience and perseverance triumphs.

And I’ve noticed a change, a very subtle change recently.

People are starting to treat me differently.

I really do feel more ‘established’ now.

Feels weird, but good, alhamdu lillah.

Being ‘remarkable’

Came across an interesting Ted Talk. I ended up reading the transcript instead of watching it. I find I often get more from reading something than listening to it.

It was actually about marketability and it said what a lot of people are saying these days, that in order to get noticed in this day and age you need to be ‘remarkable’.

That doesn’t necessarily mean ‘excellent’. Remarkable literally means ‘to be remarked about’. So that means you need to be enough of a freak, or aberration that people will actually remark about you to others.

You become a topic of discussion. Oh, did you see ‘so and so’…

I think it’s kind of sad.

And I think it’s a symptom of the times in which we live.

Call me old-fashioned but that’s not my style.

I actually think there’s another way you can make yourself seen, and that’s by consistently giving good value.

Sadly, that is remarkable in this day and age.

My tactic in my career has been to exploit every opportunity that comes my way to its fullest.

For example, when I was invited in 2006 to the American Library Association’s convention in New Orleans, I prepared the best I could. I had about twenty minutes to talk about Muslims in Children’s Literature and one of the points I made was that as a kid, I never read a book to learn anything.

I read it to hear a good story!

And that resonated with some of the people in the audience.

I remember Deborah Ellis was on the panel and she came up to me afterwards and told me how much she’d enjoyed my speech. And then years later (just last year in fact) she recommended me to an educational publisher who was doing a series of booklets on mental wellness and I wrote a piece on racism for them. My booklet is for grades seven and eight and is called Not Guilty and should be published very soon now.

What happens is when you really shine during an opportunity, people will remember that. And they will pass on the word and it will lead to other opportunities.

That’s been the way of things with me.

I started this business the hard way. Pulled straight out of the slush pile by a small Canadian publisher.

I’d read somewhere that if you keep writing your best,  you’ll eventually write  your way up to higher markets, and that’s precisely what I’ve done.

And that ALA opportunity eventually led to the IBBY Congress in Denmark opportunity where I gave my Freedom of Speech vs Cultural Sensitivity speech 

Ironically that speech would be perfectly apropos for the Charlie Hebdo situation as it dealt with the Danish cartoon incident.

And that speech led directly to the NCTE conference presentation I just did last November where the vice-president of the NCTE herself, told me how much she’d enjoyed what I’d said.

These things take time.

It’s not good to be too impatient. Remember the old adage, good things come to those who wait.

And I have a lot of faith that when the time is right, my star will really shine. But all this is preparation time. It’s good to develop in the ‘dark’.

Right now I’m fighting a cold. Oh it’s been bad, but alhamdu lillah there’s finally some relief in sight.

And I must be remarkable enough that I keep getting bookings. So there.

But I do agree, being safe is the worst mistake you can make.

 

 

 

A Character sketch I did back in 2005…

Think of character sketches as a sort of ‘painting with words’. Using large brush strokes to capture a likeness of an individual. And notice the little details I included that provide clues. I read it just now and it still made me laugh!

See if you can guess who it is.

 

George couldn’t help glancing in the mirror on the way to the briefing. Dangit, he was still a handsome fellow, and wasn’t he lucky!?

Fine wife. A wife that stood by him. For better or worse. Well wasn’t this the better he’d dreamed of?

Top of the world! By the grace of God!

He positively glowed inside. He walked by the dour likeness of Lincoln, the bust of Washington. He wanted to chuckle. Why not? Who’s to stop him? He’d earned his place among them.

Last check before he faced the hyenas. Shoes sparkle. Tie straight. Versacci pressed. Breath? Yep.

Silly. They’d never get close enough to know otherwise.

He took a deep breath and fluttered his fingers to loosen them up. Hail to the Chief played and he walked through the blue curtains.

Flashes. He should be used to them by now, but they still made him wince. That’s it. Smile. Show them your charm. You c’n do it cowboy.

Then an aide handed him a memo. Another suicide bomb in Iraq. He’d have to offer condolences. He shouldn’t have smiled so big. Why couldn’t they have given him this before? The mood should be somber. It’s okay. No harm done.

Let the smile fade. Not too slowly or they’ll think he’s nervous. Okay, that’s it. You’ve got them. “Good evening gentlemen.”

The Mr. Harrison effect…

Mr. Harrison was my grade five teacher.

He was tall and handsome with chocolate brown hair that swept across his forehead and he was cool and funny.

All the kids loved him and wanted to be like him.

And when he was on yard duty we all hovered around him hoping some of his coolness would rub off on us.

There was a particular incident that occurred when I was in grade five and following him around as he did his rounds that I reference in my Coming to Canada/A New Life presentation.

It’s funny how popular the presentation has become. Used to be that The Roses in My Carpets was by far the most popular. Now I’d have to say it’s a tie between Picture the Story and Coming to Canada/A New Life.

I guess it’s also relevant that immigration and some of the themes in Coming to Canada are pertinent to curriculum in junior grades.

Anyway, it’s very important to really observe the people around you and what’s happening.

I think if you want to be a writer, you need to be a student of human nature.

It’s often the case that kids will hang back after they’ve been dismissed from my presentation.

On Thursday I was doing a school that didn’t have a lot of brown kids. They were mostly white. Honestly though, I sometimes feel as if it’s MORE important to be going to these kinds of schools.

Anyway, I finished the first Coming to Canada presentation for the grades 3 and 4 and a bunch of the kids crowded around me, asking questions, but some of them didn’t have questions, they were just standing there with their friends.

Fine, that’s normal, and didn’t think much of it.

But then after the second Coming to Canada presentation in which I talked to the grades 5 and 6, we were coming to the end of the presentation and I asked the teachers if there was any time for questions. One of the teachers said, “We’ll make time.”

And then one of the teachers asked me an excellent question. He’d read The Roses in My Carpets to his kids, in preparation of my visit, and yet  I had referenced some of my more humorous stories, including Fajr in Muslim Child. He asked, “Is it harder to write a serious social activist kind of story or is it harder to write a humorous story?”

Wow!

I’d never been asked that before!

It’s funny because usually the questions are always the same. After sixteen years of doing presentations I’ve heard most of them!

And I told him, “It just depends. I write each story because that’s what I need to write. If it’s funny or sad. Doesn’t matter. It just has to work.”

So then I asked if there were any more questions. There were no hands up, so I started wrapping up, and then a bunch of the kids stuck their hands up, so I answered some more questions.

But finally it came time for them to be dismissed and I turned around and started packing up my books. But four girls had stayed behind.

Oh they were so cute! One Asian, two white and I think a brown girl, all four tall, slender and cute.

Just standing there watching me pack up, with big grins on their faces.

I asked, “So do you girls have any more questions?”

They kind of did a double take and one of them posed a question but it was pretty innocuous. I went back to packing up the books. And they were still standing there, with smiles on their faces watching me. Just grinning and watching, not really needing to say anything and that’s when it occurred to me.

And I said, “Ohhh, I get it!”

They looked at me waiting to see what I’d say.

“This is like the Mr. Harrison thing right?”

And they started laughing.

“I’m the cool one though, and you’re hoping some of my coolness will rub off on you!”

And they laughed even harder.

It’s interesting to note that they didn’t deny it!

They didn’t affirm it either.

But they didn’t deny it!

We talked a bit more and then eventually they skipped out to experience what was left of recess.

I’m sure it was the case.

In fact I’ve noticed the phenomenon many times. After a speaker does a very good speech, something that moves people, there will be a group that comes up and just kind of mobs them. Not necessarily wanting to ask questions but just wanting to be close to the person. Physically close to them.

I know I’ve done that myself! It was instinctual. Didn’t know why I was even doing it!

But thinking back it makes me feel so strange, and blessed! That I can engage with a group of kids in such a way as to elicit such a response!

…And get paid for it!!

Doesn’t mean your own life has to suffer.

We’ve been saying that a LOT around the homestead.

I mean who wouldn’t be appalled at what’s going on all over the world?

There’s carnage and bloodshed and dying and starving all over the place.

I’m trying really really hard not to hate rich people!

And I’m trying really really hard to keep it together what with all the suffering that’s happening.

It’s not always easy.

I just read an interesting article in the most recent issue of the SCBWI magazine and the lady stated factually that most authors are suffering from a lack of school visits. That for many, they’ve all but dried up as a form of revenue, and I thought really?

I’m still getting them, albeit yes, the numbers are down, but I’m still plenty busy!

It also helps that I was fortunate enough to receive another Toronto Arts Council grant to be Artist in Library again. This fall, at Downsview library, although now that I’m typing this I’m not sure if I already mentioned this on the blog.

If I did, please forgive the repeat.

But that should prove interesting and will keep me busy this fall.

Wanting Mor was published in Sharjah in November and I’ve been invited there in April to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2015 there. I’m really looking forward to that!

The folks are planning to fly me business class and the weird thing is I’m kind of conflicted about it.

Is it strange to feel that spending so much money on a ticket that will get you to a place in pretty much the same way as if you flied economy, is shameful?

Shameful!

I’m tempted to ask them to fly me economy and then donate the rest of the money to the refugees in Syria or something. But then part of me feels that no, just take it, and see what business class is all about.

But honestly, I’m starting to hate this ‘class elitism’ nonsense!

I’m starting to hate the whole idea of ‘status’.

And yet don’t I suffer from it all the time? Don’t some people take one look at me and think I’m beneath them? It happens a lot!

You can see it in their eyes.

In the curl of their lip.

And then more often than not, I can turn that curl around when I actually get up to present. And then it’s like a look of astonishment on their faces, but not on everybody’s face.

You can’t win everyone over.

You just can’t.

Some people just aren’t able to get past the package.

I’ve got a new project coming out very soon alhamdu lillah. I hope it blows people away!

It’s called Not Guilty and I was reminded of it even with some of the recent happenings.

When I have more news I’ll tell, but for now, keep your chin up and remember, from that old Afghan folktale, about the subjects giving the king a ring that he could always look upon with good advice that read, “This too shall pass.”

Every time something awful happens recite that mantra to yourself, “This too shall pass.”

And every time something wonderful happens recite that mantra, “This too shall pass.”

Ups and downs, life is bound to have both.

So ride them both equally, knowing in your heart that the things that happen to you, do not define you.

And your economic stature or your other status do not define you.

You are something else.

You are the soul, deep within the shell of your body, that looks back at you, that runs the shell of your body to do its will.

And try to do good.

That is who you are.

 

Reflecting and germinating…

I know it’s been a while since my last post.

Been thinking of things to blog about but I’ve often been too busy to blog.

And then something really sent me for a loop.

Every once in a while that will happen.

You’ll be coasting along and something impacts you with enough force to change your whole trajectory.

But maybe, and this seems to be a conclusion I’m coming to, I was leaning towards it even before I got hit.

I wrapped up the residency with the Fairview Library.

What an awesome learning experience that was!

Turns out I conducted about 63 hours of programming that served the needs of about 650 of their patrons.

I think I worked harder than any of the other artists in library, and something about that makes me feel quite happy.

Like I tell my son, nothing wrong with some good hard work!

I sure wanted to leave the library staff feeling like they got their money’s worth.

And then, after I’d pretty much given up hope, I received news that I got another Toronto Arts Council grant, for another stint as artist in library for the fall of 2015.

It should be a LOT easier this time around. I’ve run the programs and I’ve kept notes on all my lesson plans.

So the residency ended with me feeling exhausted but happy.

2014 was a year of lots of trials and lots of failures.

I did complete a project which is being published alhamdu lillah but an educational publisher.

It’s a very good piece alhamdu lillah, and I’m just in the final stages of it. Wrapping it up so to speak, but I didn’t sell any trade books and now that King for a Day has come out, and garnered quite a few accolades, alhamdu lillah, I need to top that.

For the first time in my life, I actually do feel ‘established’.

But not at all complacent.

I’ve been working hard on my craft and I feel this year of frustration will bear fruit insha Allah, and I’m on the cusp of growing a lot in my craft.

Patience.

Perseverance.

Even after you feel established.

And then, aha, the moment of impact. The trajectory will be affected.

I was invited to conduct a presentation at Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) convention.

Every year they hold it at the Metro Convention centre downtown and they were even going to pay me.

They wanted me to do two presentations–and they were even going to pay me! So how could I refuse?

I did the girl’s presentation no problem. Many of the girls had even seen me at their schools, and I knew that would be the case. I guess I’ve been to enough schools in the greater Toronto area that this is bound to happen.

So I fretted and worried the night before, hardly being able to sleep!

But I needn’t have worried. It went fine.

The boys, ages 7-11 were another story.

Many of them too remembered me from school visits.

And these boys were positively squirrely from being inside all day.

All the techniques I usually use to quiet a group–failed.

Eventually the only thing that worked was speaking over them, until I got into the story, and they quieted themselves because they really wanted to listen.

I chose ‘violent’ stories.

I thought they’d get their attention the best, and yet they were stories that had deep messages to them.

It was curious how many of them started lying down and just listening.

There were a couple of the kids though who couldn’t understand English and would not settle down, but I didn’t take it personally and they were remarkably, not that disruptive.

Several times I’d be in the midst of a story, and part of me just looked around at all these rambunctious boys and how I’d actually managed to quiet them, and thought, ‘Wow.’

But by fifty minutes, they’d had enough.

And as I started gathering up my books and things, and signed a couple of autographs for the couple of boys who asked for them, I thought to myself, “Ooh that was hard! But alhamdu lillah, I gave them something to think about even while I entertained them, so it’s all good.”

Then I went down to the bazaar, it’s the best place to find some good hijabs, and as I was rounding a corner, I met a lady who would pierce the entitlement bubble that I hadn’t realized had formed around myself.

And in the process I’d remember yet again, how extremely fortunate I am, and especially how kind God has been!

This is a video of her speaking at an event on homelessness.

She is a remarkable woman, one of those rare Mother Theresa types, who saw a real need, and has spent her life trying to address it. She’s been endorsed by the Baltimore Ravens, Hamza Yusuf and Tariq Ramadan. How often can you say all those three entities in one sentence???

It’s about twenty minutes long but well worth listening to!

And even though my schedule is crammed with stuff to do, I’m putting stuff on hold and I’m writing up a profile of this sister Asma Hanif for Sister’s Magazine, insha Allah

Watch the video! Maybe it’ll change your trajectory too!

 

 

 

 

Things have calmed down somewhat with regards to the infamous comments of Daniel Handler during the National Book Award ceremonies where he pointed out that Jacqueline Woodson was allergic to watermelon, ‘make of that what you will’.

Jacqueline Woodson then posted a very interesting open letter in the New York Times talking about how hurtful the comment had been, but at the end of it, honestly I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Mr. Handler.

We all say stupid things.

I’ve met loads of stupid ‘brown’ people, stupid ‘yellow’ people, stupid ‘black’ people and stupid ‘white’ people.

There really is no monopoly of race when it comes down to stupidity!

And I think white people are in a particularly difficult position because historically, and even presently, they’re often in a position of privilege and many of the more conscientious ones completely understand that.

Perhaps they want to show how ‘egalitarian’ they are, and would like to be able to include some good natured ribbing of their ethnic minority friends in the same way that they’d rib their white friends, often without thinking of what’s coming out of their mouths.

And everyone knows humor can be hit or miss.

Rene Saldana Jr. writes an excellent post about what occurred recently here: http://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/12/18/guest-post-a-bucket-load-of-talk-no-action-a-bucket-load-of-nothing/

And like he says, I’d be much less willing to forgive the Republican Elizabeth Lauten for her stupid remarks about Obama’s daughters.

Like Mr. Saldana says, the GOP have a track record, and I really believe that they are highly disingenuous when it comes to reaching out to minorities and championing their rights.

But…

I do think both Lauten and Handler should be really forgiven, and maybe it’s because of my own history of saying stupid things. Showing mercy in this kind of situation can be much more effective than anything else.

I feel very strongly about this because of a moment of mercy in my life, that was a real turning point for me.

I went to Guyana, South America, for three weeks and I stayed with my husband’s family. They lived in a quaint little house, very neat and clean but full of bugs.

Being a tropical developing country I found the taps and washroom facilities rudimentary and yes, uncivilized. But it was the lizards and frogs on the walls of the inside of the house, flicking their tongues at flies and mosquitoes that were the most alarming.

The customs and mannerisms of the local people were also very rudimentary and unusual to me, and after two and a half weeks, I was really homesick and singing the praises of my beloved Canada to the youngest of my brother in laws, while we sat on the veranda, where the sea breeze kept the mosquitoes somewhat at bay.

I was only about twenty-one and it was the first time I’d ever left the continental North America, but still that’s no excuse for my behavior.

I was telling my brother in law (a boy about twelve) all about how wonderful Canada and Canadians really were. And he was listening avidly.

“Things are so modern there!”

“Really?” he said.

“Oh yes! And the people are so civilized!”

“Really?”

“Oh yes! And smart! They’re so smart!”

“Really?”

“Oh yes! And I’m so smart!”

“You are?”

“Oh yes! In fact…I’m smarter than everyone in this house!”

Even as the words came tumbling out, I realized how stupid they sounded. And there was a moment of stunned silence. The veranda jutted out, like a balcony of sorts, and behind us were the curtained windows of the living room, just a few feet away, and of course the windows were open to let in the breeze.

You couldn’t see inside. But I heard my father in law’s voice very distinctly as he calmly said to my brother in law, “Get in here.”

That was all.

He’d obviously heard my stupid remark, but he made no other reference to them.

Even when I went downstairs.

Even when we all sat down to dinner.

My mother in law had always been such a friendly chatty type, but she said little, and her little sideways glances told me she knew what I’d done.

I waited to be scolded.

I waited for the next day and the next day after that for them to confront me with the magnitude of my stupidity, so I could apologize, but they never did.

Probably because I was a guest in their house.

And their silence was a much more painful punishment than any scolding could have been.

I didn’t know what to do.

I’d never experienced this type of excruciating kindness.

And it occurred to me that I could just pretend the whole thing had never happened.

But it was eating me up inside, and on the way to the airport, I decided I had to say something!

When my mother in law was hugging me, just as I was about to board the plane, I said, with tears in my eyes, “I’m really sorry.”

Her face changed. And she smiled, and it was like the sun had come out. And the relief made my knees wobble.

And then I turned to my father in law and said, “I’m really really sorry. Can you forgive me?”

And his face too, broke out into a grin. “It’s okay.”

And that was that.

In all the years since, they have never reminded me of it or thrown that incident in my face.

I felt thoroughly humbled and I have never thought myself better than them in any way. In fact, for the last thirty-five years of my married life, I’ve been doing everything I can to make it up to them.

That’s what mercy can do.

Whether or not Lauten was sincere, (I really do believe Handler was) they should both be forgiven in the hopes that mercy can lead us forward, and we can all get a little closer and a little more united despite our various cultures and backgrounds.

Rukhsana Khan

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