Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The pink coat

About 17 years ago I had a job at the Hospital for Special Surgery helping a new physician set up his practice.   He was a really nice guy and he understood that his expertise was in surgery and helping patients and the other "stuff", and there is lots of it, was mine.  

I had been there just setting up his insurance participation and starting a schedule for office visits when he came in and told me, on a Friday, that in a week a physician from Pakistan would be using the desk behind mine and he would be there during his time in the States.  

This is full confession time I was not thrilled, ok I was eye rolling.  Really it was a small space, the extra desk was perfect for all the insurance forms and xrays I needed to spread out and did I mention it was a small space?  I just pictured this middle aged guy, who would think I worked for him (which I was not asked to do), from a country not exactly known for it's women as equal stance sitting behind me.  My space on the desk was gone and so was my personal space.   I got over myself by the afternoon and cleaned up the area.  Maybe he would be cute, maybe I was wrong about him by the end of the day he was Omar Shariff to my Lara .. ok minus the part were Lara was a woman who slept with gross men to get things.   If you have no idea of the reference Google "Dr. Zhivago"... ahh now you get it.  

Monday I walked in and settled myself, it was cold as in New York cold.  That is the kind of cold that seeps through your jacket, that makes your face freeze as you run from subway to office.  We New Yorkers pretty much complain about the weather but the seriously cold and the seriously hot and humid bring out the New York angst that you picture from every bad movie about us that you have ever seen.  

There I was when a young man, glasses, smile plastered on walked in and I thought maybe he was a patient, it was the Pediatric surgical section which saw people in college even, but what struck me the most was his coat,   It was a pink woman's coat.   Now many places this may have raised an eyebrow but in New York hey one more gay guy in a pink coat gets no attention.   

He introduced himself - my Omar Shariff not so much maybe his grandson at best  - and with his smile I knew I liked this guy.   He is handsome don't get me wrong.  Though why he stood there in said pink coat was a bit baffling.  I asked him to hang it and I may have made him a little nervous since he could not master hanging it up on the hook.  Maybe a blonde woman, in a new culture was not exactly all he expected.  I was no Lara either. 

Everything I had thought was WRONG!!!  I had the pleasure of knowing him and then some of his friends.   He made me laugh and wanted to be a great office mate and even more than that he wanted to bring his intelligence and medical skills while getting what the US promised - opportunity.   I can think of many times when we laughed together, when he left me in the middle of sentence on a street while he followed a pretty girl never approaching her, when he and I chatted about what a Muslim was, where he shared his family's devotion to education ( PhDs for both parents - ehem not doctor doctors - yeah I gave him grief for that).   He and his friend Nabil taught me to appreciate their culture while being open to experiencing the many NY had to offer.   

No one who met Nabil and Saf could do anything but like them, my friends wanted to be their friends.   

I introduced them to the beach and was impressed that considering they had come from a culture that demands modesty in dress they never once said we should be like them.  I tried to teach Saf how to swim, I still am apologetic for almost drowning him.  We learned from each other because there is much to Pakistani culture to admire as well as I had to pepper them with Romanian drops.  After all we New Yorkers the tossed salad of the world, flavor in each individual ingredient but really best when tossed together. 

Saf and I have kept in touch all these years, via email, text, FaceBook and his multiple stops on his way to his current head of orthopedic surgery gig.  He is not in NY.  Along the way he found a great woman to marry and they have 4 amazingly cute boys.  

I am often tempted to send him a pink coat because it symbolizes not only his beginning here, or our meeting but rather who he is.   A young man who came a little ill prepared for the weather here whose landlady gave him a coat and he took it gratefully despite the fact that it was obviously a mismatch.  

I turn to Saf without any hesitation for medical advice in his field of expertise and I am humbled by how he will be there for anything I have ever needed.  He is my Pakistani brother and I would open a can of whoop ass on anyone who ever treated him with anything less than the respect he deserves. 

On 9/11 as the world fell apart for those of us in NY I worried for my friends' safety, for my city's future and I worried that maybe someone would look at Saf and Nabil and not see them but instead see a place to hurt someone who they connect with the terrorists.    I worried for them as New Yorkers who were experiencing the same pain.  I worried for them as doctors who express such compassion for human beings and to see this was devastating.  We all fell apart that day, some never came back and we mourn them, and others were the spirit and goodness that always are bigger than the hate in those planes. 

As immigrants we share a special gratitude for this new beginning we found in the US, where we worked hard to add to the country, where we had our children who we trust will do great things.   You cannot ban immigrants based on random, discriminatory criteria you should only ban those who want to spread their hate both native born and from other places.  A nation has to secure it's borders but it should never close it's heart.  



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