The Birth Certificate

Hope everyone had a great weekend! This weeks post is about the power of helping someone in need, and having friends that are willing to sacrifice for you in order to save your life. Powerful story, and an even more powerful lesson. As always, I appreciate your comments, suggestions, shares. Thank you!

The Birth Certificate

My dear friend Yelena promised to give me her I.D. card to travel to Serbia. I thought, It is true that real friends are like a four-leaf clover: hard to find, lucky to have. I needed a birth certificate for my son Samir, one with a Serbian name. Milan Rozic, one of Samir’s school friends, lived in our neighborhood. I decided to go to Milan’s home and ask his mother for a favor, but realizing full well that if she granted my request she would be putting herself in danger. After the sleepless night, with the first rooster calls I finally decided to go to the government office and ask for Milan’s birth certificate without his or his parents’ knowledge.

I arrived at the office feeling very nervous as if I were walking into a bank to rob it. When I recognized a former student Maria working there, I felt better.

“Hi, Mrs. Softic,” she greeted me politely. “How can I help you?”

“I need a copy of my neighbor Milan Rozic’s birth certificate. His mom asked me to do her a favor and get a copy of it for her while I was in town.” It was a lie, of course.

“Do you know the date of his birth?” She looked at my hands, and I squeezed them to keep them from trembling. But my hands betrayed my true state of mind and kept shaking. So I put them into my pockets.

“Yes, yes. Milan was born on September 26, 1979, six months after my son.” When I mentioned my son, Maria was quiet for a while, as if she had discovered my intention.

“Why didn’t Mrs. Rozic come for the certificate herself?” She now looked at me suspiciously. A tinge of fire spread across my face, and I hid my eyes like a child caught stealing a cookie.

“And why does she need it?” Maria’s body language and facial expression signaled that she was uncomfortable.

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her,” I blurted.

“Do you want to call her and ask her?” Maria pushed the telephone towards me.

Oh my God, what should I do now? I thought. “Oh no, that’s okay.  She is working now, and I don’t know her work number.” I looked at the floor.

“Where does she work? I can find the number in the telephone book,” Maria said. She walked towards the shelf. “Besides, her sister works in this building.”

Another pang of fear stabbed my soul. This wasn’t as easy as I had imagined it would be. “I don’t want to disturb her at work.” I paused. “If it’s really a problem to get it now, I can tell Mrs. Rozic to come by another day.” I sat making myself smaller and wanted to disappear from the room and from the world where my son and I could not travel as Muslims.

Maria was quiet for a moment. The seconds ticked by like hours, and finally I turned and grabbed the doorknob.

“Come here, Mrs. Softic.”

I turned my head.

“You are my dear high school teacher and my principal. I like and respect you because you emphasized the importance of good character, and you were always ready to help your students. I still remember your sentence: ‘Do good deeds, and do not regret doing them.’”

She removed a huge book from the shelf and sifted through the pages until she got to Milan’s name. The hope of getting the document was slowly returning to my heart. I blinked several times in thankfulness that I had become a teacher, and that I had helped my students to build strong characters, stronger than the stupid rules of war.

“Mrs. Softic, please sit and relax for a moment. I’ll get it ready for you now.”

“I don’t want to cause any problems for you.” My mouth was tight and bitter as I forced the words out. She moved swiftly, her eyes glittered, and her fingers played on the keyboard like a skilled musician playing the piano. I sat on a chair and looked at the brave young lady who was putting her own job at risk to help me. She knew. It was clear enough that she had the courage, when she saw an unjust rule, to break it.

After about five minutes Maria gave me the birth certificate, and I saw the same brightness in her eyes that I saw on her graduation day when I handed her the diploma she had earned. I sighed. I couldn’t say “thank you” to her, but my tears could.

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