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I Once Knew an Immigrant

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Here is how it happened. Many years ago, my wife and I lived in Calcutta/Kolkata, India, for graduate study and a cross-cultural experience. One day my wife was riding a city bus. Buses were always crowded to the extreme. She was dressed in a sari just as any other Bengali woman, but she stood out like an albino in a flock of colorful birds. A woman nearby asked, “Are you an American?” Upon the reply, “Yes!” this woman said, “I used to live in Iowa.” That surprisingly random encounter led to a life long friendship with her whole family. As it turned out, they lived about one block from us in that suburban sprawl which flowed out of the city. But this was a suburb with open sewer drains, little black ditches, roaches and rats, and like Calcutta itself, averaged 67,000 people per square mile. We visited one another’s homes occasionally and became good friends. Two of their three boys were in grade school, and the youngest, about four years old, had been born in Iowa while the father was a postdoctoral research scholar there in biophysics. They had also lived in England for a year while on another project. Having returned to India, the land they loved, he found the place crowded with Ph.D.’s. India educates so many of them. After we returned to the USA, I began serving as pastor of a country church surrounded by corn fields in northern Illinois. We kept in touch with these friends by mail. A year or two later, they came to Illinois, where he had obtained a teaching and research position at one of the great universities of the Chicago area. They lived in a modest white house in one of the inner suburbs. She had a degree in early childhood education, so she taught part-time in a preschool. Their three boys finished their school years there and each went on to college in the USA. Their father, my immigrant friend, taught at the medical college of that university and conducted exquisite research related to heart disease, publishing results in various journals. During those years their family occasionally came to visit us at our home next to the church. They often attended worship with us and listened to my sermons with real interest. This sometimes led to further conversation. After twenty-five years, or so, his research grants dried up, and the department’s internal politics led to the administration urging him to retire. After all, by this time he was close to sixty-five. But he was not ready, so they moved to Utah, where he taught at another medical college for a few more years. And then they retired to a home in a hillside suburb of one of the west coast’s major cities, because one of their sons had become the IT manager for municipal utilities. Of their other two sons, one became a psychiatrist living on the west coast, and the other, after years of postgraduate research took up teaching at a university in New Zealand. Seeing each of their sons making real contributions to the well being of the world, this immigrant and his immigrant wife settled into retirement and the joy of watching grandchildren growing up. Whenever I had opportunity, I visited with them, since our oldest son lived in the same metro area. We had lively visits and shared pictures, memories, and political views. He, the immigrant, proudly showed me pictures of the village school in his home country where he continually gave money to support the school and scholarships for village children. They also enjoyed the arts. He had been a visual artist and loved music of all sorts. He read widely and wrote papers presented at conferences on the topic of the mystery of human consciousness. At our last visit, years after his wife had died, he was 92 years old. He showed me some of his favorite books. We talked for a couple hours. He was a gentle and kind man. He had given much to both America and to his home village. He was an immigrant that I knew. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34 (NRSV) © 2020 Stanley Hagemeyer

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