To make life easier for everyone, they each adopted one-syllable names – Ray, Joe, Ed, Bill.

They were students from Iran, a bunch of whom worked at the same place I worked decades ago.

They were all especially polite, thoughtful, hardworking, patient and kind. I know they were those things because the place we worked together tested all of its employees on those qualities. 

Our employer was the Nebraska State Developmental Center – what had been a huge institution for people with severe mental disabilities. It was an old place with old buildings and old ways of doing things, that was being slowly depopulated, and never had enough staff to provide the proper level of care for its thousand or so  residents. So it could be a rewarding place to work; but it wasn’t easy finding those rewards – it was messy and a little scary and exhausting and depressing.  

 This was the late 1970s/early ‘80s. I was working at the Center while I made my way through a couple years of community college, then the university. All those Iranians were there to go to school, too – about a hundred of them. We sat in classes together, then some of them came to work where I worked the evening shift.

At the college one time, I sat in on a roundtable discussion about the hostage situation and the Iranian revolution. A few of us locals sat down with a few of the Iranians. There stories ... it was the first real hard clue I got about how the realities in another country could be so totally upside down from ours. These were all people who knew someone who had been killed, had family members killed, disappeared, been shot at themselves, were afraid to say too much for fear that their families could be harmed. 

And they all missed their moms and dads, siblings, cousins, best friends. 

I’m a little foggy on the timeline now days, but I can tell you that for a few years, there were a bunch of Iranians who were about my age, some of them married with children like me, who worked to support themselves as they went to school. And then at some point, they were all gone, back to their homeland or to some other country where they and their families would be safe.

Some of those students were anti-Shah. Some of them were anti-Revolution. Both sides had their horror stories and grudges against the other. I don’t know the workings of their relationships. But they were all more than civil to their American hosts.

You could argue that those Iranian students I went to school with were being cautious, were putting forth their best selves in a foreign country where they needed badly to get along. But, like I said, I worked with them, too, in a place that tested everyone’s humanity. 

I think of them now because at Christmas one year, I remember, a group of us from the Center and our families went out for dinner together, including a few of those Iranian students, who strikingly seemed lonely and were glad to join in a get-together with us and our families.

My argument is that it is so easy to hate people by what country they’re from; by what partisan group they’re with; by what religion they practice. I’ll concede there are people who do things that deserve our hatred. But there are good people, too, in the countries we come in conflict with. 

Just feel like remembering that this year at Christmas time.

*

Thumbs Up: And a tip of the hat to that happy crowd that annually engineers some delightful local entertainment, the Applause! people. This weekend’s “Applause! Home for the Holidays” is always just fun stuff. You can see the performers are enjoying themselves and enjoying each other and the good vibes are contagious. There’s some silliness and some seriousness and all sorts of holiday fun.

The annual benefit performance is hosted by Yuba Sutter Arts and Sutter Performing Arts Association (for the renovation of the Sutter Theatre). 

This year’s run started Thursday evening and continues tonight (Saturday) at 7 p.m. and tomorrow for a matinee at 2 p.m. Go to YubaSutterArts.org for info on tickets.

*

Ugh: Stole these from somewhere.

How do you prove Santa is real? You can’t. You can only sense his presents.

Ho, ho, whoosh. Ho, ho, whoosh: Santa going through a revolving door.

Ho, ho, ho, thump: Santa laughing his head off.

Recommended for you