After squinting at the ancient television in my parents' bedroom and realizing I couldn't determine either the race or gender of anybody on the screen, I took my father out to buy a new one last weekend. He was following me to take a closer look at an LCD flat-screen model when I heard a shout and a crash.
Turning, I caught sight of something I'd hoped never to see in my life: my almost-eighty-year-old father face down on the floor. Thankfully, it wasn't a heart attack or stroke; he'd tripped over an empty stand jutting out into the passageway, and broken the impact of his own fall with an arm. But he was bleeding, he was sore, and he was scared.
I sat on the floor, helped him turn over, and cradled his head in my lap. People were gathering, and my self-reliant father wanted to stand up. He's a big man, though, and I couldn't get him to his feet alone.
That's when I heard another South Asian man in the store calling to his son: "Joe! Come and help!"
The teenager turned away from the XBox he was admiring and raced to obey. Together, the three of us hoisted my father to his feet. As the boy's father ran for a cup of water and I pulled over a chair, I noticed the boy murmuring in a British accent that marked him as a double foreigner, "It's okay, lean on me, I've got you, I'm right here."
Later, once my father was safely home, I found myself wondering if the boy's respectful behavior towards an elderly stranger had anything to do with his Indian roots. A typical American fifteen-year-old might have rushed to help, but would he have had the presence of mind and inclination to reassure a shaky older man with comforting words? Maybe. But it seemed unusual to me.
All human cultures - including American pop culture - have the potential to reflect God's beauty and creativity as well as to promote different kinds of suffering and evil. The respect given to the elderly is something I'll always be proud of when it comes to my South Asian heritage. As more American firms set up shop in India, let's hope they don't outsource the denigration of the aged that causes so much suffering here in the States, sadly both in the wider culture as well as in the church. And I pray that like Joe, both of my sons are the kind of young men who gladly rush to comfort an old man in trouble.