I am standing in the narthex of a church on the near west side, it has great big beautiful stained glass windows. I am waiting to be seated by one of any number of tall dark Sudanese refugee men. They are a large group of Lost Boys, assembled to support one of their own as he marries my friend who is an Italian American ELL teacher. Suddenly a face I recognize appears and she tells me that I must come and sit with her and her siblings. So I do. They all hug me but the little boy who solemnly shakes my hand. They rearrange themselves so that they are sitting with me between the two girls. A coworker has brought them because their father had to work and the mom is remaining home. They are beautifully dressed and I am sure that their dresses have been given to them by the coworker. I am immediately impressed when I see the priest in a vestment that has the silhouettes of the traditional animals of this region appliqued to it. There is a theme of nature everywhere in this church, and a banner that uses the pronoun SHE in reference to the holy spirit. The first thing the priest says is that there will not be a wedding mass because so many religions are present in this wedding, an unheard of Sunday wedding in a Catholic Church but he is doing this ceremony in celebration of these two. He says and this impresses me so much, there is after all only one God. HUH? Wait. He repeats it and then asks for agreement. There is, he says ONLY ONE GOD, RIGHT?
He also makes reference to the amazing service work that each of these two are doing. The Sudanese man with his Hope for Ariang Foundation and my friend in her service to the children in the ELL program. He asks are there not those among you who have had special teachers, teachers who have inspired you? I am by the way repeating all of this in various terms to the children who are from Eritrea, to help them understand. To the oldest I say, you have inspired me, you have been a teacher to me, you have taught me that even though the journey is so difficult sometimes, that facing the day with joy and strength every day is so important. She smiles at me. To the oldest I also explain, do you know how you walked so far to get to Ethopia? Yes she says, well I tell her these men walked just as far, or even farther but you know that you have such a very good mother and father and they have led you and cared for you? Yes she says, and I tell her these men are orphans, they walked alone without their parents. She stares at me, her mouth open and asks me to repeat my words.
At the wedding I get teary eyed as they talk of the Sudanese tradition of not just joining a man to a woman, but also of joining one family to another. I like this. It is how it really should be. And then as the bride dances with her father I get teary eyed again, no I start to all out cry. And I see she is crying too. I miss my dad. And the stupid silly hopeless romantic in me is wishing I could have a lovely small sweet wedding like this one day. Because I kind of missed it the first time around. I eat the delicious Sudanese food, dance with a handsome Sudanese man who tells me maybe one day another wedding of an African with an American. He tells the bride this later in my presence, she laughs. I am flattered, kind of, he is at least ten years younger than me, but my heart is taken.
As soon as I get home I begin to walk the dog and suddenly I hear beeping, and a car pulls up alongside me. The driver gets out and yelling and calling out in joy she runs to me and throws her arms around me. I kiss her many times on the cheek and hug her and hug her and she is laughing and hugging me so tightly. See there are special teachers in everyone’s life who have a profound effect on their students.
Tia has taught me resilience and perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds. She inspires me.