Viewpoint: Dinner bridges divide

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 12:19AM
Dinner bridges divide

To the editor:

On March 23, the Ledger published an article that I wrote, entitled “Go back to where you came from” describing my own personal experiences of racism since immigrating to the US three decades ago. Many readers followed up with letters to the Editor - some sympathetic, others not so. One gentleman wrote a letter that felt like a direct attack on me and it ended with “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

As a response, I had extended him a genuine invitation to get to know each other better over a meal.

Considering the turmoil that we continue to hear in the news, I feel compelled to share what followed that last letter:

The gentleman gained my respect as soon as he called me to take me up on my offer. Considering the circumstances, it was indeed very courageous of him to pick up the phone to call me. I suggested that although there were many things that we were likely to disagree on, for that 1 hour meeting, it was important that we focus on exploring things that we had in common.

I learned a great deal about him that day - about getting shipped to Boston on a train to attend college, about the hard years spent in the military, about his successful life, his children, about the deep sorrow of recently losing a loved one, about aging. He made me laugh with stories from before I was even born. we He said he had known only two things about India and was curious to learn more about my upbringing in India. He seemed to genuinely enjoy hearing about my family and my Indian culture. Or at least I hope he did.

Yes, indeed there are many philosophical differences that we probably may never reconcile. However, we shared many thoughts that day that we agreed on or were genuinely interested in because we were both simply speaking as human beings.

At the end of our lunch, the gentleman said: “You know, when I read your letter inviting to take me out for lunch - I thought that was a really nice thing you did.” Then he really touched my heart when he continued and said: “I would love to meet and do this again.”

When we stopped thinking of ourselves as Republicans or Democrats, white or brown-skinned, Americans or other nationalities, dog lovers or haters... and took on the identity of simply human beings, both with the same capacity for feeling joy and sorrow, we both relaxed into the connection that we had just made.

I felt like we both had nothing to lose and a lot to gain from this meeting. I certainly gained a lot. I hope he did too.

Jayant Hardikar