Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His classmates at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School called him “Jahar,” because his name was too hard to pronounce. In the 24 hours after the FBI released his picture, those classmates took to the airwaves, declaring him a nice, regular guy. He was captain of the wrestling team, a good student and city scholarship winner, well-liked, maybe a bit of a stoner at college. They made him sound normal, one of them.
He took on the name they used as the identity on his Twitter handle. Jahar.
How did it sound in his ears? How did it feel to be renamed, to be changed for the ease of others?
He couldn’t have felt left out, said a classmate and friend, because the school is so diverse. Many languages are spoken at home. Most classes had students from multiple countries and differing backgrounds.
At Portland High School in Maine, the student body is similarly varied. In a given year, three dozen different languages may be spoken in the homes of the thousand or less students. Waves of immigrants over the past thirty years have come from Southeast Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Robo-calls with special news come in a wide variety of tongues. An ELL teacher, Marge Sampson, realized that students’ names were being mispronounced regularly, in classes and hallways and even at graduation. She volunteered to read the names each year at the ceremony, taking the time to be sure she knew the correct pronunciations whether the students came from Cambodia, Somalia or Iraq. Sampson says she learned that, “how your name is pronounced is how you say it’s pronounced.”
Jesus tells a story of people too important, too religious, too afraid, too much in a hurry to stop. He tells a story of someone who takes time and trouble to help, anointing the wounds ignored by others. It’s a lesson his followers sometimes forget, but not Marge Sampson, who put in the effort to show mercy and anointing, one name at a time.
Marge is an old friend from my days before and during seminary and married to a very fine tenor who used to sit next to me in the choir loft at Woodfords Congregational Church UCC. It takes two people to do her graduation job now, and at my daughter’s graduation last month, they did a fine job, too, thanks to Marge’s example.
I wrote this reflection in response to The Good Samaritan, for Maren Tirabassi’s resource covering the Luke passages in this season of Ordinary Time. You can find it along with other resources for this Sunday here.