"Forgiveness is the needle that knows how to mend" ~ Jewel
When you live in a foreign country, cultural differences are often hard to surmount, especially when we come to a relationship with preconceived notions of how the world should function, of how people should behave. I am certainly guilty of imposing my own morals on others, of judging other's actions as either "good" or "bad" according to my deeply ingrained value system. But what if there was another possibility, a different way of esteeming others that allowed us to suspend our own beliefs and simply wait for an answer?
Aysa returned with Sorna two days after we confronted her with her theft. We welcomed her and all sat down at the table . . . waiting for her answer, the one we expected, the truth as we knew it. For me, it seemed like the only way to mend what was broken. I was obsessed with hearing her say it . . . that she had stolen from us. I felt like a juror who had all the pieces that led to a sure conviction, but wanted a confession to ease that sliver of doubt that plagued me in my sleep. But she didn't give me what I needed. She neither admitted her wrongdoing nor apologized. She trembled, she cried, she bristled at our insistence, our prodding for the truth. Bou, her accuser and best friend, remained steadfast, telling us once again what he had seen her take from our house. She obviously felt cornered by us and betrayed by Bou. And yet, she only explained her difficulties at home, tears streaming down her face, anger in her voice. Her mother was expecting again, a difficult pregnancy which only added to her depressive tendencies and kept her in a silent torpor. This will be her sixth child. At that moment, all I wanted to do was cross over to the other side of the table and sit next to Aysa in the witness stand, put my arms around her and retract my verdict. Instead, I told her that I understood how scared she must feel, that if she could find the courage to tell us what happened, there would be no consequences, only forgiveness. She remained silent. We asked her to consider her relationship with Sunny and Jamie. For their sake, we hoped she could learn, could move forward with a second chance to be a part of our lives. We told her that, above all else, she and Bou needed to work out their differences, preserve their long-standing friendship. Emotions were high, polluting the air above us all and so we decided to leave the table and let the day pass, unresolved. Aysa sat on the beach ten yards from Bou. They didn't speak. Richard was pensive. I felt sullen and frustrated. Zorro was emotionally taxed and tired from translating. Jamie and Sunny ran on the beach, unaware of our problems. I proceeded to plague Zorro with questions, certain that he had the answers. I was seeking his cultural and spiritual point of view as a Muslim. Surely he understood her better than I. Why had she stolen, why had she refused to admit it? What was she scared of? He explained that stealing is one of the worst offenses in the Muslim religion and is highly punishable. She was terrified of the consequences. More importantly, he wondered why it was so imperative for me to have all the answers. He suggested that perhaps there was no resolution, that the truth lay in our individual ability to just forgive. He left me with this, literally, and took Richard back to work on the house.
Later that day, in the afternoon, I saw Aysa and Bou talking quietly on the beach. I wondered about the shape of that conversation, about it's path. These were children who were calling to each other across their divide, a lie on one side and a betrayal on the other. Red rover, red rover, let Aysa come over.
After they talked, Aysa asked me if she could borrow a small woven mat. When I handed it to her, she took it outside and laid it on the ground. Through the open door, I saw her gather all the children--Sorna, Bou, Jamie and Sunny. She lined them up in two rows and led them to pray namaz together, Jamie and Sunny unquestioningly following their rhythmic movements. Stand, kneel towards the sun, sit back on your heals, touch your forehead to the ground, one foot up, then the next towards the sky. Their grace as a group, their uniform movements, their individual reasons, were like watching a slow dance: show your humility, ask for forgiveness, reconcile your differences. As the only witness, I stood watching silently, reverently. My answer had finally come.
"Allah Akbar," I heard Aysa say. "God is great."