History in the making has always been part of my mental-emotional makeup. A legacy from parents who tried to relate whatever was happening in our lives with what was thought, said or happened in the past, from grandparents who made sure that we heard the stories of Pilgrim family arriving to Massachussetts in the days of Cotton Mather, participating in the Revolutionary War that gave birth to the USA in 1777, active builders of the nation and economy through thick and thin, a grandmother, daughter of a German immigrant who came soon after the Civil War to Richmond, Virginia, and became chief (?) of police, while she, exemplary Christian mother, raised twelve children alone during the Depression under the shadow of an absent actor-artist-landscape architect husband.

So when I was not yet thirteen I read the newspaper headlines on August 13, 1961 about erecting of the Berlin Wall and wrote in my diary: “War! The war between Communism and the West has erupted. I most surely will become another Ann Frank, though there are no secret annexes in our Goiânia apartment, and presently Brazil still favors the United States…”

My historical perspectives were always present, but in an impossible potpourri of fact, fiction, legend and wanna be “crazy creole samba” (a humorous song about the mélange of Brazilian history invented in the early 1960’s). I read Orwells’s “1984” that year. When today I see the ubiquitousness of surveillance through computers, I know that the prophecy: “Big Brother is watching you” has come to pass more thoroughly than anyone could have imagined.

1989 is the title of this essay. A great year for me and my family in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, when Lau was finishing his work at CCEF. I changed jobs (from Assistant Librarian at Elkins Park to office manager-assistant to a dear friend, freelance editor, inserting words of marvelous hymns to music for Great Commission Publications, thus being a tiny part of the making of a great hymnal, “editor” for a computer service company that served the US Navy, and, during the summer, English Instructor at American Language Academy on the beautiful campus of Beaver College (where Edith Schaeffer had studied years before). The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. Six countries from the Soviet Union declared independence. And I got a job at ALA. I had always taught English, from the time I was a teenager in Porto Alegre, but teaching international students in 1989 was a continual history lesson for me. Students came from China (one from Beijing, one from Hong Kong – with the same language written in classic characters but spoken in entirely different ways, contrasting world views and dreams of freedom or foreseeing nightmare of Hong Kong`s return to the dominion of Mainland China). My mother had made her own historic-dream-pilgrimage to China and several Far Eastern countries with OMF supporters[1] and had been on Tienamin Square a week before the Massacre of June 4th, 1989. Now she was before my eyes, a bright and beautiful girl hosted by a Jewish-American woman with international ties to human rights organizations. I wanted to know Mei better, tell her story – and was forbidden.

There were several Muslim students: the son of one of the ruling sheik`s concubines from Saudi Arabia, who, when his car got totaled in Philly, had it shipped to Arabia to be revamped at the palace mechanic`s. A Turkish young man who timidly declared: “Mrs. Gomes, you teach with love and beauty, reminding me of my mother, who is a teacher in Istambul”. A Yemini who said that his grandfather was a Berber from the desert, but his father a government official.

Then my Israeli student, whose cousins grew up and live in New York. Yoram wanted to become an American like them, but had family loyalties with his Israeli parents who were important to the Jewish nation (and I was reminded that Benjamin Netanyahu attended Cheltenham High where our son Daniel was studying).

A Spanish student scored high on every test and demonstrated ability and drive, letting me know English was important for his future career as lawyer and possibly politician. I do not doubt he became a man of great leadership in Spain, though there is no way to verify, because even his name flees my mind today.

There were Korean and Japanese students – Evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Shintoists and agnostics of many stripes. My Swiss, German and French students were world class from the European Union, but this American raised in Brazil kept wondering about their true historical origins. Silly conjectures.

Several Latin American students – from Peru, Venezuela, Colombia and of course, Brazil (one, daughter of a famous news anchor in Venezuela, another, of a shrimp magnate, still another, a child of a well-heeled bureaucrat) and their dreams. Oh, the dreams were everything from becoming an international singer or actor (I sort of envision one of the girls as Shakira before she was famous!). My African and South Asian students ranged from the daughter of a government official from the Côte d`Ivoire to a Methodist Thai industrialist`s daughter. Each student let me know piecelings of their stories – but none were as poignant as those non-commented by emigrants from the USSR. An older student— in her thirties— economist in Kiev who was beginning to learn about her Jewish heritage through the sponsors for her family`s arrival in Pennsylvania, weeks before Ukraine left the Soviet Union. She took her own sandwich to lunch for meals, because for the first time in her life as a free person, she was submitting to kosher laws. Another Russian engineer got a job at TJMax and was enjoying hard work and results of her labor in a non-demanding job free from soviet directives.

At the end of our two months, I invited the students to my home for dinner. They contributed five dollars apiece for the meal and arrived to help prepare it – my kitchen was teeming with people of all stripes, who also invaded the yard to help mow the lawn and sweep the porch. Not pandemonium — but only pan, because demonia they were not – they were all image-bearers of the Lord of the Universe. I had shared only English grammar, pronunciation and practical usage – not any of the story of redemption – but hoped that when those who would return to the country of their origins, as well as those who had adopted a new land, would perceive that Christ motivated my teaching.

So, as I remember the year of momentous historical develpments in the world ending the Eighties, most of all I remember the histories, the stories, of people of all nations whose lives touched mine, and hopefully, that my insignificant life, dubbed with eternal meaning, had touched them with grace.
Elizabeth Gomes

No comments:

Post a Comment