A Conversation

Well, before I tell you about the conversation, I want to tell you what a nice Thanksgiving we had with my mom and Mark. We have a lot to be thankful for, and thanks were given. It always pricks my heart a little to see Robin respond so strongly, so joyfully, to his extended family, because I know he’ll really miss them when they leave. I’ve become convinced that the modern American nuclear family is, well, a dumb way to raise kids. It makes my life so much harder. It makes Robin’s life so much worse.

And yet our own extended family is so scattered across the country, and I can’t see any way to knit them back together. Especially with this economy: I don’t know if we even have the option of leaving the Bay Area any more. We’re pretty safe here in terms of knowing that Sam can always find a job. We wouldn’t have that safety in most other places.

So, anyway, I’ve been watching with great gratitude Robin’s interactions with his loving grandparents, and thinking a lot about family, today as we saw Nanita and Marqueño off from the airport. Then in the late afternoon I nipped down to the little corner grocery on our block to buy a carrot for tonight’s turkey noodle soup. There’s a fellow there who often works the checkout that loves interacting with Robin. He’s a nice guy, one of the many Middle Eastern immigrants in our neighborhood, and that’s basically all I know about him.

So we’re chatting as he rings up my carrots; I asked him about his Thanksgiving and he asked me about mine; he asked me where my boy was (napping with Daddy) and—guessing, based on his warm and playful interactions with Robin—I asked him if he had kids of his own.

“I did,” he said, blinking back sudden tears. “I had a ten year old son. My wife, she was shopping in downtown Baghdad. They were both killed in a bomb.”

I couldn’t say anything except “my God. I’m so sorry.”  And he nodded and smiled and I stood, useless, and then repeated myself several times before I stumbled away.

Now you can tell I’m Southern in upbringing because I have the strongest urge to bake him a casserole. I don’t know any other way of responding to such terrible grief. I know this has happened to so, so many families, but it hadn’t ever before happened to someone I know.

It feels so strange that I’ve known him for so many months—I see him every week—but I know so little about him. I don’t know his name. I wish I knew more, but I don’t want to intrude. This is all I know of his story:

His family killed, he came from Baghdad to San Francisco, and he started over. He works long hours. He loves children.

Now I can’t stop crying. What justifies this? Who can answer for it? What can be done to atone?

4 Responses to “A Conversation”

  • Dawn Says:

    There was an article on the BBC recently about people whose children had died. They talked about the things that people said to them – from the point of view of what not to say.

    “I think about that possibility every morning when I wake up”.
    Lucky you, I think about it all the time.

    And I think you said the thing that you can say. You didn’t try to minimise his loss. Also people hate that their losses might be forgotten – I’m guessing, but I think he would rather you asked than you never knew.

    I guess the bottom line is that life can be unfair and from time to time we all hit harsh reminders of that.

  • shannon Says:

    Yeah. I’ve been thinking on this more since last night; it’s actually astounding that among my whole circle of personal acquaintances, this is the only parent I know who has lost a (post-natal) child. It really drives home how sheltered and how lucky my life/my society is.

  • sarah Says:

    Indeed we are sooo blessed to live here in the family we have, which by the way is extended all across the country – wow!

    Your response to this nameless friend was right on – straight from your heart. There is nothing that anyone could say to “make it better” and your stunned response and sadness is, I’m sure, appreciated. Now that you know perhaps he will sometime share some other things about this woman and child for whom he cared so much. The opportunity to talk about them can be important. He really does like you or he would not have shared this piece of information. He could have answered your question with a simple yes…but he chose to share with you what is probably the most significant thing going on in his life. I’m glad it was you that was there so he received a REAL response, not some person who made it their problem rather than his.


  • shannon Says:

    Thanks for your perspective, aunt Sarah!

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