At age 15, I stood at the tiny Kalandia airport between Ramallah and Jerusalem and said goodbye to my parents. The year was 1950. I was setting off on an adventure that would take me across the Atlantic on an ocean liner that, after several weeks, would land in New York. From there I'd travel by train and bus to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where William Penn College - with only 200 mostly non-Quaker students - would become my temporary home. A year later, without consulting my parents, I would transfer to Earlham College, in Richmond, Ind., with a whopping 600 students.
As I looked up into my dad's eyes during that moment of farewell, I noticed, for the first time in his (and my) life, real tears. Later it would dawn on me that - for the next four long years of my "exile" in America - I would not see my parents' faces, or hear their voices, and I would fail to see my younger sisters grow up. My experience as an underage foreign student in America would include culture shock, acute homesickness, and the kindness of strangers.
As my father, an old-fashioned man, said goodbye to me that time, he murmured what I thought would be words of comfort and wisdom. But instead of advice, his words were more like an edict, a command. I, who had led a sheltered life, wondered why, at this tender moment of parting, such a dictum crossed my dad's lips.
As I hurried across the tarmac toward the small plane that would whisk me off to Beirut, and from there, to sail the ocean to America, I turned and waved one last time. Still puzzled, I wondered what the reasons were behind my dad's admonition. Why would he even bring it up? Didn't he trust me? Wasn't I, after all, my father's daughter?
In the following months, I mulled over my father's words. It would be years later when I finally figured out the intent behind his admonition: "Listen to me, May. I don't want you to kiss any boys in America."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society