Sunday, September 12, 2010

Simple Gifts, Human Kindness: The Possibility for Hope as Strangers Break Bread Together

I blogged Saturday about an unexpected gift that came Steve's and my way on the eve of the 9/11 commemoration--the Israeli film "The Band's Visit."  Watching the movie rekindled our hope about the possibility of continuing to reach across various ethnic, social, and religious boundary lines and to make authentic connection with the human beings across those boundary lines.

And now today, another gift, about which I write simply because I think we have an obligation to be grateful and to express our gratitude for the gifts that come into our lives.  A simple gift, but one that touched us profoundly . . .

I have a cousin in town visiting his mother, my aunt.  Steve and I wanted to take them to lunch today, and suggested a Middle Eastern restaurant we like.  As we drove there, my aunt reminded us that we had been there just about a year ago--her first and only visit to the restaurant.

And so we arrive at the restaurant, choose a table, sit down, and the owner comes up to take our order.  And tells us our meal is a gift from him today.  He won't take a penny.  We're to order whatever we want.

I really have no idea what prompted such kindness on his part (well, I have some thoughts, but no concrete information to back them up).  But I'm grateful for the kindness, most of all on behalf of my elderly aunt, who deserves every kindness possible.  And for the beautiful plates of hummus, baba ganoush, falafels, pita bread, and salads.

And I simply want to share my gratitude for this unexpected gift of generosity from a complete stranger.  Who lives in a strange land, and must often find it very difficult, as a Muslim born in the Middle East, trying to make a go of it as a restaurateur in the American heartland.  At a moment in our history when many of us are intent on showing our Muslim brothers and sisters as many signs of unwelcome and hostility as we can manufacture.

It means something--it means everything--to know that, even in the midst of contention, hatred, and vicious slander, human beings can still reach across tables strewn with the broken glass of long enmity and share bread with each other.

Later the same day, a thought and a question: in a culture that often seems bent on defeating our best efforts to tell simple, but utterly necessary, stories about the transformative power of sharing and breaking bread together, how do we find ways to tell these stories?  Ways to get around the roadblocks?

And more to the point (for me, at least, existentially)--and linking to my previous post today--how do we find those paths to telling these transformative stories when those holding the center in our own religious traditions, many of them focused around a common table, around sharing and breaking bread at that table, often seem oblivious to the implications of these ritual acts?  Oblivious in everyday life, where too many of us seem to be treated by many of those circling the common table as if we simply do not exist.

I ask these questions because it matters to me to try to understand.  And to find a way in my own life.

No comments: