After living through two Super Bowl seasons in the ‘burgh, I have learned that Pittsburgh does football their way. Whereas I’ve been to many Super Bowl parties in different states over the years, there is just something electric about football here in Steeler Nation – even when our team isn’t on the field.
So, this year, when our plans included watching the Super Bowl at the home of a local Pakistani doctor who recently helped to sponsor a family of Pakistani refugees to come to America, I knew that the unique experience that is Super Bowl in the ‘burgh would once again trump all others.
We learned a few weeks ago of a family from Pakistan who, due to their Christian beliefs, were subject to violent persecution back in their home country. The result? The murder of a mom and her two young children. Left to live without them? Her husband, two older children, and a cousin. Just over a year ago, they fled. To Thailand.
Through the help of Catholic Charities, and this local doctor who agreed to serve as their sponsor, they arrived in Pittsburgh from Thailand this past Wednesday.
In preparation for their arrival, a number of families from our church helped to clean, stock, and attend to repairs for a home owned by this doctor. And, to make space for more refugees who will also be headed to Beaver.
A party to celebrate their arrival was planned. For Super Bowl Sunday.
The family joined us for church that morning, which was my first opportunity to meet them. While the father and daughter speak very broken English, I was able to communicate quite well with his 16-year-old son, and 20-year-old cousin – a former cook in Pakistan – who promised me food. And lots of it!
The father, who seemed to wear a cloak of sadness, met Zane, and pronounced, “Oh. He is such a beautiful boy.” And then, silence. My heart hit the floor as I was reminded that one of his youngest, a boy of 5, had been killed only a little over a year ago. At that point, I wasn’t sure how to respond. What to do. What to say. So, I hugged him. And he responded with “Thank you, my dear sister,”
Fast forward to the party.
Harper and Zane were noticeably unsure how to act. Harper had packaged up a pretty bracelet for the daughter, and Zane drew a “Welcome” picture. But after those were handed out they naturally gravitated to their friends who were also present. It will take time.
Me? I befriended the cook! I’m no dummy.
My friend, Erik, sat with the father, listening intently to his retelling of the horrors they experienced, putting the broken English together to form the story. His eyes were teary.
George sat near his son chatting small talk, and eventually, along with another guest, attempted to teach him the rules of American Football.
Lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the room was the doctor’s brother who had recently suffered a debilitating stroke. As it was his birthday, we sang him hymns and Happy Birthday – to which he was able to respond with a weak, but most joyful, “Thank you.”
All while the game played in the background.
Half-time approached. The sound was turned off. Madonna began to enter with her “army”. But, over the top of her Super Bowl Half-time Circus were the voices of the doctor and the son singing the Beattitudes (memorized) to us in Punjabi – with Erik playing a percussion instrument that he had only just picked up moments before – something that, yes, only Erik can do. (And yes, that link is another plug for his CD.)
While I could tell Harper was disappointed to be missing the half-time show, we couldn’t really explain to her THERE why this was so very important – to allow the party to be about our new friends. NOT about the Super Bowl.
As we drove home a bit later, me with an entire bag of lemon curry powder in my hand from the good doctor, and a promise of more food from the cooking cousin, we talked more about the violence and loss this family had endured.
Harper and Zane asked questions, but I wondered if they had really heard our answers. We discussed the meaning of the word persecution in terms we thought they could understand.
Then, as we watched the 4th quarter of the game in our home, our family completely intact, the press highlighted a player who had lost family members in hurricane Katrina.
“Oh, please,” Zane begged sadly, “no more about families losing their families.”
Super Bowl Sunday. Whereas last year there were tears shed into her Terrible Towel as Harper cried herself to sleep after a Steeler’s loss, we invested this year sitting and getting to know a new family, who are still shedding tears and are experiencing culture shock in their new town.
I can honestly say, this was a first.