But I’m not the only One

November 22nd, 2019

A’isha texted me saying that the kids needed help with their homework.

I texted her back to say that I would come over to their house.

It was dark and cold and windy when I parked in front of their home. I rang the door bell. I heard a loud noise from inside the house. Ibrahim answered the door.

“Hi Frank!”

I came in, and I took off my shoes. Yusif came to the door and looked at me mischievously. The other kids did not get up to meet me. Some of them absently said “hi” as they looked at their screens. They were all engrossed in their tablets. Every child was gazing into his or her magic mirror. There are eleven kids in the house. I guess that a screen for every child keeps each of them busy, but it also keeps them distant and remote.

It’s a brave new world.

Despite the joys of the Internet, there was still the yelling and confusion that come from a big family. I am familiar with that. I had six younger brothers. We were always just one step from utter chaos. I could feel that in this house too. It’s not a bad thing. It just is.

Muhammad had homework. He is young and intelligent and cocky. These are all good things. He always comes to me with his math homework. He really doesn’t need my help. He understands the math. I just play along. Sometimes he gets a bit too self-sure. He decided to solve a word problem by multiplying everything.

I told him quietly, “You need to divide.”

The little boy looked intensely at his work, and said, “Yeah, right.”

As Muhammad was working on his math, A’isha, the mother, brought he me hot, sweet tea, as she always does. It’s a Syrian thing. I said to her, “Shukran”, in thanks. A’isha asked me to look at some mail that she had received. It was an advertisement for a credit card. I explained to her that they just wanted to sell her something. I advised her to throw it away. She did.

It took only ten minutes to help Muhammad with his homework. Then Yusif came up to me with two little books to read.

He smiled, “I have these books.”

“Good. Read them to me.”

He did. He stumbled over a couple words.

He said, “Then Jack came.”

I told him, “No. That says, ‘Jake’, not ‘Jack’ “.

Yusif looked at me in an unsure way.

I nodded. “It’s ‘Jake’ “.

Then he kept reading.

The books were short. Nobody else seemed to need help, so I slowly pulled on my jean jacket, and made ready to leave.

Nizar looked at me and asked, “Are you going now?”

I replied, “Well, yeah, I think I’m done here.”

Nizar shouted, “No, Hussein needs help too. I go get him!”

Nizar shouted up the stairs to Hussein. Why do all kids shout? It was like that when I was young. Nobody walks up the stairs to talk to somebody. People just yell at the top of their lungs. This seems to be a universal characteristic of families.

Hussein came down. Hussein is the oldest son. Hussein is a high school senior, and he is taking some college courses in order to get ahead of the game. He had some American government/politics class from Parkside that he was taking, and it was a bit confusing to him.

He needed a computer to do his work, so he tried to commandeer a Gold Chrome from one of his siblings. They balked at this request. He quickly pulled rank as a surrogate parent (which he is), and grabbed Nizar’s tablet. Hussein gave orders to his younger family members, and they followed those instructions grudgingly and with resentment. I was in his position forty or fifty years ago, and I understand the family dynamics involved. Hussein is trying to do a job for which he is not equipped. It just sucks.

Hussein and I finally found a tablet that allowed him to access his homework. He was supposed to analyze three political cartoons. Hussein was totally unprepared to do this. Political cartoons make sense to people from a particular culture, and a particular time in history. To anyone else, these drawings mean less than nothing.

Hussein noticed that I was edgy.

“You keep looking at your phone. Do you have to go? I can do this.”

I told him, “I got time. I need to visit a girl that I love in prison, but not right now.”

He said, “Okay, if you are sure.”

We looked at the cartoons. They were not current. Some were very old, which meant that they would mean less and less to people of Hussein’s age. One cartoon was a parody of a song from John Lennon, “Imagine”.

I asked Hussein, “Do you know what this song is about?”

He shrugged and said, “No”.

“Look it up online. Now. There’s a video.”

Hussein did that. He looked and listened.

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”

Hussein understands English well. He listened to the lyrics of the song. He did not understand the importance of it, if there is any.

I told him, “For some people, this song was very important. It meant a lot. Lennon was murdered by a crazy fan in front of his house in New York City back in 1980.”

Hussein asked me, “How old was he?’


He shook his head and said, “That’s too young.”

I said despondently, “Yeah.”

He shrugged. The song went on.

“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

I said to him, my voice shaking, “I remember exactly where I was when Lennon died.”

Hussein looked at me, “So, where were you?”

“I was in Arizona, in the Army. I was with some friends. We heard on the news that Lennon was dead.”

I put on my coat, and headed toward the door. Hussein followed me.

He said, “Thank you for coming. When do you come again?”

“I don’t know. I text your mom before I come here.”

Hussein asked, “And do you go to the prison now?”


“Is the girl, is she better?”

I paused. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

He shook my hand.

I left.















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