Zivah by Michelle Bosworth
Posted on May 30, 2011 by michellebosworth
I had no idea what to expect when I walked into a hole-in-the-wall Israeli restaurant today. Certainly I had no premonitions that I was about to laugh my hardest and tear up with heavyhearted sympathy the next.
Her name was Zivah and she was a couple of years younger than me. When I entered the dining room she ran up to greet me warmly and said, “You come here before? No? Come closer to me- I will show you food.”
Zivah led me to the buffet table where there was a small, scrumptious selection of breakfast items laid out.
“I make yogurt,” she informed me proudly and then took me to a table and poured me a cup of coffee.
Her brown eyes were gentle and her lips never stopped moving. She swung by my table often on her way to serve other patrons and she always had a funny yarn to spin. I giggled and giggled and almost lost a mouthful of hummus and feta once. She also told me very serious stories about her homeland and I sat dazed as I listened about a life I could not imagine.
“I go back to Israel for 3 months every year,” she informed me on one pass-by. “I eat on the roof there. I can see missiles fly overhead, but they do not land where I stay. My grandparents told me to stop being scared. I used to sit on roof and see a missile and say, ‘Oh, shit!’, but now I used to it.”
“Wow,” I said, my eyes huge. “I can’t even imagine living like that.”
“It is war there. War all the time, but there is war here too.”
I snorted. “In America? You’re kidding. We have freedom; we have it so easy.”
“I have been to bad cities in America. I have seen gangs hurt people, kill people. War is everywhere. Here, in this city where you and I are, we are safe, but that is not so in other places. War is just different in America, but it is still here.”
“It’s just how you interpret it?” I questioned.
“Yes. Where I come from, the Jews, they steal the young boys from our families. We learn to hide them. The Jews come and ask if there are young males in the house and we tell them no- we hide them underground or in caves.”
I swallowed the food in my mouth and leaned forward.
“One time they come to my house. We hid my brothers underground. My grandfather say, ‘No boys live here. We only have this young girl.’ They dragged me out of the house. I was 13. I screamed and cried. The only thing they made me do is mix dirt and water to make mud to cover up graffiti. I never forgot how scared I was that they would take me.”
On her next round over I asked about her parents.
“They no speak to me for 15 years. My father, he marry me off when I was 14 after he molest me. My husband, he raped me and I became pregnant. My husband, he beat me so I tried to run away. After the baby was born he took our daughter and left for Israel. I have not seen my daughter in 14 years.”
“And your parents?”
“They disowned me because they said I deserved to be alone and without my daughter because I was wrong to try to leave my husband. My siblings do not talk to me either because they did not want to be left out of the will when my parents die. I lost my whole family.”
She bustled away and I swallowed a lump in my throat. Tears blurred my eyes as I stared down at my yogurt and pita. I thought of all the times I have felt sorry for myself over the past year and guilt settled on my heart like a tangible oppression. My problems are so incredibly irrelevant and miniscule. Mostly the stress at this point in my life revolve around work. Without getting into particulars, I had settled into a slight depression over my job until a recent week in Hawaii brought me to my senses and made me realize I had lost months of my life consumed with constant worry and anguish about something I have no control over.
Zivah made me feel ashamed. Ashamed that I take so much for granted. Ashamed that I am not more thankful for the many blessings in my life. Ashamed that I have let time slip by- time that could have been spent in loving and caring for others instead of concentrating on myself and my worries about the future.
The next time Zivah came by I asked her, “But you are happy now, yes? You seem happy and at peace.”
She held her arms out to me and I saw scars up and down all over them. “I am working on it. I do not cut myself anymore.”
Trying to smother the sadness I felt for her, I smiled and said encouragingly, “That’s good!”
She smiled back. “Yes, I know difference between right and wrong. I am Muslim and I see the males when they beat their women; I don’t put up with that. They not supposed to eat beef, but they not supposed to drink either. But they drink all the time. I see. I see them drunk on Hennessy. They tell me, ‘America has changed you!’, and I say, ‘No, not America! I am smart- I see with my own eyes what is right and wrong’.”
I looked at her closely and realized she could so easily be a bridge to understanding. Here was a young lady who was both American and Muslim. And she so beautifully represented two completely different cultures that the intertwined result was both immensely intelligent and captivating. Admiration shone from my eyes.
“What is your name?” she asked me.
I held out my hand, “Michelle. It’s such a pleasure to know you.”
We shook hands and she was off again, tending to other customers. Next time she came by she refilled my coffee and told me a little bit about her friends’ son, who is three years old.
“Three? That’s such a cute age,” I told her.
“And he smart- so smart,” she said, obviously proud.
“We in California one time and I took him to aquarium. I had just smoked- how you say?- weed, and I was a little off. We walk by big water area and I pointed and told him, ‘Whale.’ He said, ‘No, Zivah, dolphin’. I was so embarrassed, but he was right.”
I laughed and was completely at ease with her honesty about everything.
A little bit later, I stood up to leave, full and relaxed. Zivah saw me across the restaurant and made a beeline for me, arms outstretched. I reached out to her as well and we hugged.
“You come back, Michelle?” she asked and I promised I would.
It’s not often you meet someone who makes you take an inside look at yourself. Never once did Zivah call me selfish or self-centered. Never once did she make reference to my protected, safe upbringing. But I saw it all. In brilliant color. I see the cracks in my personality, the chinks in the wall I have built around certain parts of my life. And I know. I know I am blessed beyond measure.
Life is not meant to be lived to its fullest. Life is meant to be lived for others. If we do not serve and care for our fellow humans- no matter their race, nationality or culture- we cease to live to our full potential.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~Mother Teresa
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