been laboring to help her 7 year old understand how hard it would be to show up in the middle of the year in a new classroom to find yourself one of the only people of color and far, far behind academically. A little warmth and kindness can go a long way, my child. Can you overcome your shyness, be brave, and reach out? You will not regret it, sweetheart.Her words came as a gentle knocking on the door of my childhood that I prefer to be kept locked.
I was the only person of color in my fourth-grade class in Dubuque, Iowa. I was the new girl with black hair and a strange nose. The girl with the mismatched clothes of awkward proportions and clashing colors, courtesy of people's donations. I spoke no English, and I had just learned that I had an English name. I-R-E-something-something.
My sisters and I moved across cultures and continents quite a bit when we were growing up. I was on my first international flight when I was 21 days old. My mother packed all our belongings — right after she gave birth — and we flew to Indonesia. How she managed this, I will never know. By the time I turned 4 years old, we had lived in 4 different countries.
We met many friendly people, but we had very few friends. Along with all the perks of international living came a fair dose of loneliness, and being teased and bullied.
Sticks and stones might break my bones, but unkind words always hurt me. I stood there, surrounded by people yet feeling completely alone, and confused. My face hot and tingly, embarrassed. Was this really happening? Was I imagining all of this?
The worst part about being teased and bullied was the silence of the on-lookers. They watched, yet they did nothing. They said nothing.
So, when I read that my thoughtful friend was teaching her shy daughter to befriend the new student, my heart swelled with gratitude and hope. Yes, we must teach our children that teasing and bullying is unkind. This is the easy, obvious part. But we cannot stop here.
I hope and pray that my children would learn to overcome their own self-consciousness, to see beyond their fears, and reach out to others. To have the courage to speak to and speak up for those who have no friends. We tell the boys often that they are their brothers' keepers. They are to stand with each other, and stand for each other. They are to be their brothers' strength and the shield.
As Laura said, a little warmth and kindness would go a long way. To have someone who would see me as a friend, despite my strangeness. To have friend to sit with me during lunch time, to stand in line with me, and do nothing with me at recess. I knew the difference between having one friend, and having none.
I had a friend. Her name was Keturah, and she lived next door. She introduced me to Barbie dolls, snow forts, and bicycles. She taught me how to play tetherball. I loved playing with her even though I always lost.
She taught me English by simply talking to me. I said her hair was yellow, she said her hair was blonde. On the morning the leaves turned red, she said to me, "I am freezing cold." I thought, "freezing" must mean "very." So, I started saying things like, "That is freezing beautiful," and "I am freezing hungry." We walked home together one afternoon after it had just snowed. I said to her, "The trees are freezing white!" She just looked at me, confused, and we kept walking.
Two years later, my family moved again, back to Malaysia. Reverse culture shock was even more brutal. I no longer looked different from everybody else, but I was — different. The bullies knew that I was. Teenagers were even meaner than children. Words now hurt a lot more. And there was no Keturah in sight.
In my sadness, another friend showed up. His name was Jesus, my true and never failing friend. He was my strength and my shield. He was the keeper of my heart. He became freezing beautiful to me, and I realized I had been freezing hungry my whole life. He was my manna in the desert.
He walks me home.