A friend of mine who summers in the shadow of New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock says she always experiences an illumed moment when she crosses Pack Monadnock: She knows she has returned home. Home, the place where she finds solace and peace — where she writes, gardens, makes pesto, bakes pies — and plays wicked good golf.
My world doesn’t have a real Pack Monadnock — my passages vary, inspired by life-long passions and fleeting curiosities. I live on the Seacoast, visit friends in the “interior provinces” and inhabit a world defined by my loves, my art, by my American, Arab, and Muslim “Otherness.” I write columns my daughter describes as sermons, my critics occasionally describe as incendiary and that my friends recognize as my voice, sometimes over-the-top, speaking for, embracing “The Other.” I take photographs, write, garden and make baklava using rose water and clarified butter — no honey. Home is sometimes my column, where I try to challenge privilege and try (oh, it’s so hard) to embrace beauty, quiet fears and encounter the Beloved.
Today, weeks after I returned home from a trip to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, I still feel a bit adrift at sea — torn between my two worlds, torn between loves, torn between needs and cultures. At dawn, I miss the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer; I miss the taste of cardamom in my coffee and the mixture of za’atar — olive oil, thyme, sesame and sumac — on bread in the morning.
Yet, when traveling, I miss my friends, my family, my home, my books and libraries and the stormy Atlantic Coast where so often I have walked away my worries — where my footsteps are erased with each rising tide.
So this new year I become an itinerant traveler, knocking on your door, bearing a new letter of introduction and I promise to provoke, please, anger, amuse and love you.
Welcome my words into your homes as I continue to explore what home means and the ways we should treasure it. Welcome me as I explore the world around us.
Sometimes I’m a guest in the home of others. Last summer I was invited to the International Affairs Conference on Star Island, Isles of Shoals. I was an invited guest because the theme of the week was the Arab Awakening and I was asked to bring pictures, discuss my own experiences in the Arab world and conduct a workshop on the way social media was being used to heighten global awareness of the Arabs’ struggle for freedom, dignity and social justice.
Ramadan had just started and I soon recognized that I was the only Muslim on Star Island. I was The Other, once again, and I soon found myself sorting my way through the offerings of bacon and eggs for breakfast and hot dogs for lunch.
We all did our best, friendships were formed, ideas were exchanged and challenged, and one morning, outside the chapel, I heard the Unitarian minister invoke Ramadan and retell an old Persian folk tale.
Not all was lost.
At sunset I prayed in the shadow of the chapel, not far from “happy hour” at the bar, on rocks worn smooth from millennia of storms crashing over the islands and from centuries of sojourners finding they way to new lands.
I, the Muslim on those sacred rocks, was apart.
I, the Muslim on those sacred rocks, was apart yet embraced by openness and friendship. It was a week to remember and friendships were formed that I cherish.
Once, while visiting another church, sitting alone in a back pew, I heard the priest speak of “Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac…;” My head snapped up and everything was still; tears welled in my eyes.
I, the only Muslim in that sacred space, was not apart, not The Other: Together, we were Abraham’s children.
I have previously quoted “The Alphabet of Grace,” by Frederick Buechner, who wrote that after confession and tears, there would be the healing of “Great Laughter.”
Taste the salt of my tears. Hear my confession. These are the spirits that inspire dialogue and great laughter. Within such moments memories form, desires stir, love prevails.
Listen to The Other. To be just is to know what The Other is suffering, to want to know what The Other is suffering. And, once we know The Other, we become accountable. If we don’t act on our accountability, we become complicit with the oppressors.
If we honor each other’s stories, we are empowered.
Our journey starts here.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.