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I received two Christmas cards from former students last year. The students are Muslim. It was the fact that they reached out beyond their own Islamic feast days into a Christian-oriented one, to share some joy, that touched me. I sought out the picture I had taken of the class - a university typing class composed all of men from various countries of the world: several ''Mohammeds,'' a ''Cheong,'' a ''Jorge,'' and so on, but each unique. The faces were a microcosm of the world working in common purpose in one place.

Surprise packages of special moments came tumbling out as I took the ornaments from my Christmas tree: previously hostile-to-America Mahmoud's twinkling smile breaking through the bearded frown at a shared joke - smiling right at me, including me and seeing me as not much different from him, and from that moment forever changing things. Hassan, from Somalia, who had been astounded at the ''high technology'' of coin-operated food machines and telephones in the United States, making a commitment to learn and to accomplish, and doing both. Fathey and Abdulmegid and Moatasem - tongue-twister names all, to their teacher - smiling and working and persevering in their efforts to place fingers to keys and create beautifully finished works without looking.

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A new type of craft - the craft of learning to create beautiful work with machines. Perhaps these fathers would teach such skills to their sons who would pass them along to their sons, as Afghani rug designs and dyes had been passed from parent to sibling in the past.

On Thanksgiving at a dinner, Li, the musician, played haunting Chinese violin music while all of us indulged in sushi, turkey, tamales, cranberry sauce, bintanjan, and other marvelous foods spread like exotic jewels on the candle-lit table. My small daughter scampered across the floor to be within viewing distance of Li: enthralled and listening. At the end, she clapped and clapped. When she saw Li later, she smiled and then clapped in front of his face - to the delight of all. She had no words, but her sincere gesture was enough. Barriers fell and guests passed her from one to another - happy. Sincere gestures are beginnings.

I thought how often we think that we, individually, have so much to teach other peoples, countries, cultures. We forget to smile and clap right in front of their faces for what they are and what they are accomplishing - simply that.

One of the Christmas cards said, ''I will never forget who taught me to type.'' I will never forget how many have taught me to be patient and to wait, and to listen.

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