Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Between Generations in Best Buy

After squinting at the ancient television in my parents' bedroom and realizing I couldn't determine either the race or gender of anybody on the screen, I took Baba to shop for a new one at Best Buy. He was following me to a display when I heard a crash and a shout. Turning, I caught sight of something I'd hoped never to see in my life: my almost-eighty-year-old Baba face down on the floor.

Thankfully, it wasn't a heart attack or stroke; he'd tripped over an empty stand jutting out into the passageway, and broken his own fall with his arm. But he was scared, and he was bleeding.

I sat on the floor beside him, helped him turn over, and cradled his head in my lap. People were gathering, and Baba wanted to stand up. He's a big man and I couldn't get him to his feet alone, but I heard a South Asian man call to his son: "Joe! Come and help!"

The teenager raced to obey. Together, the three of us hoisted my father to his feet. As I pulled over a chair and the boy's father ran for a cup of water, I noticed the boy murmuring in a British accent that marked him as a double foreigner, "It's okay, lean on me, I've got you, I'm right here."

Later, once Baba was safely home, I found myself wondering if the boy's respectful behavior towards an elderly stranger had anything to do with his Indian roots. An American fifteen-year-old would probably have rushed to help, but would he have had the presence of mind and inclination to reassure a shaky older man with comforting words? Maybe. But it seemed unusual to me.

As I always tell kids during school visits, every culture has aspects that are beautiful and life-giving as well as systems that promote suffering. The respect given to the elderly is something I'll always be proud of when it comes to my South Asian heritage. As more American firms set up shop in India, let's hope they don't outsource the false idolatry of youthfulness and denigration of the aged that cause so much suffering here in the States.

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