A student approached me with that look–the kind of look that reminds me again what a privilege it is to live in a community where the whole world seems to be at my fingertips (or. quite literally, on my playground). He was, I knew, about to share with me something interesting happening in his Ethiopian community–his orthodox church community, to be exact. He started sharing stories with me last year after an accidental conversation that revealed our mutual interest in cultural and religious traditions, and to my delight, he hasn’t stopped.
Sure enough–“Mrs. Anderson,” he said, leaning in. “This Sunday it’s the Cross.”
Another student joined in as we were talking about this festival that has something to do with Constantine’s mother locating the true cross of Christ in the Holy Land and communicating through beacon fires to her son that she had found it. As I was silently pondering the question of whether or not JRR Tolkien knew about this festival and incorporated it into the scene where Aragorn runs up to King Théoden and shouts, “The beacons are lit!”, the first student looked at the other one and asked him if he knew about the holiday.
I don’t know what made me more surprised–the fact that the first one so casually asked the other one about this holiday that I had never even heard of, or the fact that the other student, one with a clear Asian background, smiled and nodded! He and the Ethiopian student exchanged names of churches and had a moment of shared understanding.
Huh. It reminded me of another situation where, years ago, another student was assumed to be Muslim because of his presumed ethnicity, and yet actually, he daily wore a cross bearing a figure of Jesus around his neck and he was being bullied as a result of his Christian faith.
Just when we think we have people figured out, we don’t.
Thank you, Ethiopian friend, for wanting to share your culture with me. And thank you for showing me that we can’t make assumptions about anyone, because no matter what they look like or what their last name is, you don’t really know what they think or celebrate or believe–until you ask.