I originally had a post set to go out today that was about the B (or C) horror movie, Saturday the 14th, and I scheduled it to post this morning, but after the events of yesterday in Paris and Beirut, and the response that yet another terrorist attack has gotten, I wanted to share a story from a convention.
I was meeting an editor for breakfast one morning, and in the excitement and nervousness of the situation, I realized I wasn’t wearing any deodorant. I had gotten into town early enough that I could walk past the restaurant, scope it out, and see that the editor wasn’t there yet. That gave me time to try and find a place to pick up something. This particular city’s climate wasn’t conducive to not wearing deodorant.
I stumbled upon a bodega (small grocery store/convenience store) with its doors wide open to let the air in. There was a young man talking to an older man in a language I didn’t speak. I looked to the unmanned counter and assumed one or both of these men were working there. I walked the aisles searching for something to protect me (and the editor) from a natural byproduct of the heat.
During my search for deodorant, the conversation between the two men had ended, and unbeknownst to me at the time, the older man had left. I found what I needed and went towards the front of the store to pay. The younger man was behind the counter and greeted me with a smile. He was about 25, tall, with black hair and a medium complexion. He was handsome, and he had kind eyes. He rang up my deodorant and handed me my change while we exchanged small talk.
“You in town for the convention?”
“You look tired.”
“Oh? Where are you from?”
“The East Coast.”
“Thereabouts.” (I grew up 4 miles off the GW.)
“I love New York. I visited once, when I was a kid, with my parents. They hated it, but I loved it.”
“Well, this place isn’t so bad. It’s nice and warm all year round. New York in the winter is the worst.”
He looked around the store and saw no other patrons were there. He came from behind the counter and said he’d walk me out. I found this somewhat odd, but then saw a pack of cigarettes in his hand. Smoke break. As we went to the doorway of the store, he introduced himself to me, and we shook hands. His name was Muhammad (I believe I’m spelling it correctly).
We crossed the threshold onto the sidewalk, and he lit a cigarette. I thought about asking him for one, but I didn’t want to meet the editor smelling like cigarettes, so I refrained.
We talked about the weather, the convention, typical small talk. He mentioned his parents wouldn’t approve of the way the cosplayers dressed.
I said, “Well, I can see some parents being more modest than others.”
He took a drag from his cigarette and said, “My parents are Muslim.”
Now this is where I post my caveat. I was raised Catholic. I do not identify as Catholic, but I do have a very strong belief in something greater than myself, call it whatever you want. I have read a good deal of the Bible, and I find it interesting at best, and vastly self-contradicting at worst. Speaking to other friends and theologians of all types, contradictions are a common trait of most religious texts.
I have never read the Qur’an, and everything I post here about that text comes from this particular man’s opinion and experiences. Additionally, according to those I know who have read this text, like other texts, the Qur’an falls under the aforementioned category.
Now, I have the pleasure of having Muslim friends that I can have existential conversations with all the time. One of my favorite conversations about religion is lunch with my friend, talking about wearing earrings in or out when she wears her hijab.
I’m very lucky that every conversation we have is always civil and focuses more on understanding and appreciation of different faiths, rather than a “you’re wrong, I’m right” conversation. And I truly believe that ALL conversations dealing with such sensitive topics should be handled in such a manner. I’m so fortunate to have friends that agree with this course of discussion.
Back to Muhammad. His statement didn’t alarm me. I don’t think that’s what he was going for, either. He said it in a matter-of-fact manner, and it was just informational. But his tone seemed loaded. I could have shrugged it off, but I had a feeling in my gut that this was a person who wanted to talk… needed to talk, and like my friends, was one who I could have a civil discussion with. He took another drag and thought for a moment.
Muhammad told me that his parents came to the U.S. so he could get an education, and he did. He was a high school and college graduate. But he said that his parents also wanted him to be a good Muslim.
This confused me. I asked him how being educated and being a good Muslim were conflicting interests. Neither of us believed that they were, but his parents didn’t agree. They basically wanted him to know about the world, but then because of knowledge, discard the world and embrace only their way of life. He told me he had a girlfriend whom he thought he was falling in love with. He commented on my wedding ring and asked me what love was like. I asked him how his parents felt about his girlfriend.
“They haven’t met her. They wouldn’t approve of her.” When I asked why he said, “They wouldn’t think she was a good Muslim, because she doesn’t wear a hijab.” Despite keeping her a secret from his parents, he had no intention of breaking up with her because, “though Islam teaches peace, this is love.” He smiled when he said “love.” Muhammad told me, “Islam preached about peace, but said nothing of love.” He said that he found Jesus interesting because he (Jesus) preached about love. Again, as I have never read the Qur’an, I am only going based onMuhammad’s statements.
We stood and talked through another 2 cigarettes about love, peace, “That Jesus guy,” and our relationships with God (or whatever it’s called). We didn’t agree on everything, but there was never even a hint of animosity. We did both agree that there needs to be more compassion in the world, no matter what.
When he finished his last cigarette, and said he should get back to work (despite there being no customers), we shook hands, and I thanked him for the great conversation.
“God bless you, man.”
“Allah yusallmak.” I remembered how it sounded and looked it up on the walk to the restaurant. It means, “May God protect you.”
I left Muhammad’s store feeling very hopeful that some day, people of the world will “live and let live,” without all the senseless killing.
I never saw Muhammad again, but I can only hope that he and his girlfriend are happy together and that he has the courage to introduce her to his parents. I hope that his parents allow love to guide them and accept their son and his girlfriend for who they are. Who would have thought that forgetting deodorant would be a wonderful mistake to make.