It’s a peculiar place to dwell on old dreams sitting front-row center of a Broadway show. By a struck of luck, or providence, Maryam and I had won student rush tickets to West Side Story. We had waited for hours in the sun with a hundred other people to see if “luck would be a lady.” Maryam nervously wrote out her long Iranian name on the paper, “P-a-n-a-h–i-a-z-e-r.” before placing her slip in the hat. We held hands in prayer as our names were pulled from the batch. I had no trouble showing my Pennsylvania driver’s license to the Palace Theatre employee but questions abounded as to why Maryam only had a foreign passport. Her identity is hard to define to herself or anyone. Maryam is a bioinformatics graduate student who will probably never return to her home. She masks her accent and nationality behind blond dye and blue eye contacts. Not surprising considering many research labs refuse to hire her unless she hides her Persian ethnicity.
I was elated when our names were drawn. I had performed in WSS while I was a Janus Player, and “once you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, to your first breath to your last dying day.” Elisa and I had tried for a year to find cheap tickets for the show, but to no avail. Watching the professionals dance the choreography I remembered took my breath away. Every snap, every harmony and all the Latina flair sent me back. I reminisced of my childhood, dancing in front of my mirror for hours to Annie, Cinderella or the Newsies dreaming of the lime-light. As Garth says, ” Sometimes, I thank God for unanswered prayers.” The Lord has turned my focus from standing ovations and dress rehearsal to the nations and His extravagant love.
All my theatrical reveries were paused when I peaked at Maryam watching the show. I was worried that she might not understand the colloquialisms or Spanish innuendos. Quite the contrary, she was enraptured. I was struck with the irony that I was the outsider in this experience. Beyond having empathy for the character, Maryam lives their lives. I was sitting next to an immigrant who often is mistaken to be Hispanic, not to mention she essentially has the same name as the main character, Maria. Under the lights, the Puerto-Rican Sharks fight to make a place for themselves among a white-washed culture which rejects all differences. Similarly, two sets of roommates who discovered Maryam was Iranian rejected her because they were “uncomfortable” living with “a Muslim person.” Though she doesn’t experience gang-warfare, she fights against more subtle challenges due to racism and the ignorance of FOX news. Her eyes expressed understanding as the Sharks sang of their split desires to return home to their culture and chase the American dream. In this moment, with tears in my eyes, a collision occurred between my two passions. I was divinely reminded that He had me living the stories I use to perform. As we drove home on the train that night, leaving the magic and buzz of Time Square, I was filled with a thick sense of gratitude that I was travelling on this path. As we read over the poetry of Hafez, I knew that I was created for Persians and relational evangelism. In the meantime, He abundantly blessed me with the ability to experience both worlds that I love so dearly in one night. He has me in the palm of His hands. My sweet saviour has so much more planned than anything we could ask or imagine for ourselves.