My (3 or more) Beautiful Things posts always contain snippets from a single given day of the week, but, in this case, I haven’t written in a while, so the following is a compilation of things from the past couple of weeks:
one. While driving to work the other morning, I saw a car with a bumper sticker pasted to its back corner. The long, thin strip simply stated mournfully, MY LIFE IS IN RUINS. Seeing as how the driver was at the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee and in seemingly good health, I felt it was safe to smile. Something I thought of just now, while typing out this paragraph: Maybe he’s quite a dedicated archaeologist? (Where’s Ayan with his puns?)
two. Although it’s been two weeks, thinking about the email from my friend about a recent halaqa trip in which I couldn’t participate still makes me laugh. The subject line: WE NEED YOU! The email:
i was just thinking that we can’t do this trip without you.
who will take the photos of every little thing that everyone else will not think about taking a photo of???
who will remind us to eat everytime our stomachs growl but the rest of us are too embarrassed to admit that we are hungry… again…
It’s good to know that even though I’m infamous amongst friends for often forgetting to eat real meals, I’m also paradoxically infamous for my shameless love of food. Oh, and at least someone doesn’t make fun of me for taking photos of seemingly trivial objects (like the evening at the Berkeley Marina, when my friend’s sister said snidely, “That’s just a water faucet.” I felt like stabbing her with someone’s fishing pole. Okay, must concentrate on beautiful things…)
three. I saw a man at the San Ramon gas station who was completely absorbed in leaning against his drivers-side door and reading a book while gas was being pumped into his car. Oblivious to the rest of the world, he remained standing like that for minutes after the pump clicked to signal that his tank was full.
four. Two weeks ago, I walked up to a familiar-looking young man at an event and asked, “Did I meet you at a conference in Oakland?” We established that I had not. He emailed me a few days later, asking if we could meet, since he was curious about my work as well as about my everyday life as a Muslim. I suggested we meet one evening for coffee and talk; we agreed on a time and place. (And I was pleased when he appended his note with, I like the endings to your emails. “Have beautiful days” seems to ensure that there are more to come.)
“I’m going to a coffee meeting with a guy,” I told my work buddy, B.
She was puzzled. “You don’t even drink coffee.”
“Yeah, I know. But saying, ‘Let’s meet over hot chocolate or cranberry juice’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”
The guy and I met up yesterday at the gorgeous San Jose Museum of Art downtown, and walked over to the Peet’s down the street, where it was quickly established that neither of us are really coffee fans. We laughed and shrugged and ordered frozen blended drinks anyway, then walked back to the outdoor patio tables at the Museum, where I tried to answer his questions about my work and Islam to the best of my ability. In return, he told me about growing up in Iowa (“I have a friend from Cedar Rapids!” I said), the three weeks he spent in Spain (someday, I, too, will visit), and the summer he traveled to Greece to meet his relatives for the first time.
Also, he mentioned the time he and his college wrestling teammates were in the Czech Republic for training, and ran into an Arab team from the UAE, also training for some sporting event. He invited them to dinner with his team, they accepted, and the evening was mostly filled with nods and laughter over good food, since there was only one translator and he couldn’t fulfill everyone’s verbal communication needs. My new friend shrugged, “We didn’t have internet access, so I couldn’t Google them to see what the UAE team was doing in this tiny little city in the Czech Republic.”
I laughed. “Well, if it was three years ago and you still haven’t gotten to it, then just consider it serendipity, and a rocking evening spent making connections with strangers, while eating. You can’t go wrong if there’s food involved.”
Flipping radio stations while driving home, I came across another form of serendipity: KQED Radio broadcasting the Spirituality and Social Change: An Interfaith Roundtable, inspired by the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that was held at Stanford University in January. [Audio, video, and transcript are available on the website linked above.] Imam Zaid Shakir clearly and articulately touched on so much of what I had been struggling to explain to my new friend all evening. I drove home captivated by each speaker’s thoughts on spirituality and social responsibility, compassion and human connection. I remembered telling my friend that in Islam, we are encouraged to think critically, to question, to seek and analyze answers as one way of deepening our own spiritual growth. During the course of the Aurora Forum roundtable, the Rev. Dr. Warnock said something (in reference to Dr. King) that resonated:
For me, critical reflection is an act of worship. Itâ€™s part of what it means to be a person of faith, and heâ€™s a thinker, but heâ€™s an engaged thinker. I do think the first act, in a real sense, is what the liberation theologians call praxis: youâ€™re engaged in the world; youâ€™re actually involved in the effort of trying to make a difference.
five. Over dinner, my father was grousing about his recent speeding ticket, which he received while driving with his colleague to the Friday congregational prayers. “I gave him a guilt trip,” said the daddy-o. “I told him, ‘I always drive too fast, but you heading out of work only five minutes before the sermon begins doesn’t help matters, either.’ ”
“Did he offer to pay for part of the ticket?” I asked with interest.
“No,” he said, surprised. “I didn’t even think of that.”
“My friends would have been more considerate, and offered to pay half, I bet you,” I said smugly.
“Oh, yeah?” He raised his eyebrows. “Would you offer to pay, if you were with your friend?”
“If they were running late and speeding because of me?” I almost said, Hell yeah!, but swallowed those words and added instead, “Of course!”
The daddy-o laughed and raised his hand for a high-five. “See? That’s because I raised you well.”