Yesterday I was talking to my friend S, who is from South Korea about the differences in our countries and our families. “I had an arranged marriage”, I told her.
“So you and your husband are same religion?”, she asked.
“Oh, we are not. My husband is Christian and I am Buddhist but I’ve never been to a temple. In my country we have no religion. I go to church every Sunday because it makes my husband happy. But I do not understand when the priest talks. I think, how can they believe in God. But I hope that my son believes in God when he grows up, maybe it will help him when something happens to him.”
Then she proceeded to tell me about another girl she met who was on an R (refugee) visa as she had to flee from Iran because of religious persecution.
On one end was this woman who did not have a trace of any religion yet, wanted the opposite for her child. At the other end of the spectrum was a woman who had to leave her country to hold on to her beliefs.
I realize how lucky I am to have grown up where I did – India, where the streets are dirty and cows wander by. India, where I could practise my religion freely. I went to school with Hindus, Muslims and Christians. We made Pongal on Pongal day and exchanged biriyani and cakes on respective occasions. My neighbors were Hindus and my bestest friends are Christians. I respect their belief, and they mine. I did not have to think twice about talking about prayers or wearing a headscarf. I studied in a convent where the values they taught me were the same as what my parents did. I had freedom all along and never really realized how bad it is for others who don’t.
I also understand that this may not be true for everyone who lives in India. But I thank God that the South is peaceful, that the people may not be hip and modern but they are tolerant and loving.
Honestly speaking, ever since I moved to the US I’ve been afraid of my headscarf instigating others, thanks to the countless stories I hear. But, thankfully, that all these fears were only in my mind. I have never felt awkward or threatened here. I did have my fears while riding the bus every day. There are a lot of crazy people in America and by crazy I mean for real crazy, like people mumbling stuff, screaming expletives, reciting poetry randomly, etc. I know its uncalled for but I was always worried one of them might say something to me. The only things that I had thrown at me were nice things – “You look really good in that”, and by that they meant my scarf. This made me happy. And now I finally feel like I belong.
It took me 24 years to realize how important it is to have the freedom to stick to your beliefs. But what if you have all the freedom in the world and still do not believe? Like the case of my friend S. Maybe she does not have religion because she does not feel the need for it in her life. That’s a freedom too. But what if she just never had the opportunity to experience the other side? Maybe her parents were not religious at all, and that’s a missed opportunity right there. Her country did not believe in any religion, that’s another one. But now she has a husband whom she accompanies to church every Sunday. I really hope that she gets to fill that void of God and the what, why, who’s with a little faith.