Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Case of the Controversial Cookies….

It was December 20th. My neighbour, TZ and I were freezing our posteriors off, waiting at the corner, one street away, for the school bus, to take our boys to school for their last day of classes before Christmas holidays begin for students. The bus arrived, we patted our boys’ backs and gave final reminders to “be good” as they went up the steps of the bus. As it drove away, we waved towards the dark, tinted windows of the bus, hoping it was our kids seeing us wave and not somebody else’s kids thinking, “Who’s the strange parent waving to me??”

On our quick walk back to our homes this wintery day, our chat was light as it sometimes is.  We talked about our plans to rest and relax during the Christmas holidays. When we got to her driveway, TZ said, “Oh wait! I have something for you,”….she ran into her house while I shivered some more and she came out with gift for me. A plate of cookies, all wrapped up in Christmas-themed cellophane. 
She smiled and said, “Merry Christmas!! I baked these myself!”

I must have looked shocked because she continued with a smile, “Don’t worry. The kids say they’re pretty good.”  

“You didn’t have to do this,” I said.

“I know,” she responded, “I was baking to make Christmas gifts for the teachers at school anyway and I thought I would make you a plate too!”

I explained why I seemed shock, “But TZ, in my birth country, Muslims are now taught not to even wish their non-Muslim friends,"Merry Christmas" or the like, for fear of weakening their own faith or giving credence to some other faith. "

TZ wrinkled her eyebrows and huffed impatiently, “I’m a hard-core (Egyptian) Muslim. I know that Allah can see the intentions of my heart.  How can wishing you well and giving you a plate of Christmas cookies damage my faith?  Aren’t we neighbours? Aren’t our children friends? You welcomed me to the neighbourhood with a plate of cookies,” and she continued to tsk tsk away, “People should go demonstrate at your country’s embassy. So many wrong teaching these days!”

I quickly calmed her down and assured her that no such rally was needed but gave her a great, big hug and the double-cheeked kiss typical of my city. As we retreated to the warmth of our homes, I gave thanks that neither I nor TZ were afraid to reach across the cultural and religious boundaries that set us apart. I gave thanks that we were determined to treat each other with respect and be the best representation of what we believe to be the Truth, despite all the ugliness being committed in the name of religions all over the world.

And so as I write this, seven months after Christmas, it is Eid al-Fitr (a.k.a. Hari Raya Aidil Fitri in my birth country) in a few days, the end of Ramadan for my neighbour. I know what I will be sending over to her place on that day of celebration. Some gorgeous cookies from our local halal supermarket together with my well wishes.

For anyone reading this who might disagree with my actions or TZ’s actions, I suggest we let God do the job of judging, eh? The last I heard, there was no new job posting for “God”. 

As for us humans, why don’t we do the best job possible to represent the “God” of our beliefs – more love, less hate; more compassion, less ill will; more understanding, less ignorance, and more respect with  less disdain for our fellow human beings and especially towards those we claim as neighbours and friends. Let’s try that. Not just for a day or week. Let’s commit to that for as long as we shall live. Maybe then, humanity has a chance….

PS – those homemade cookies from TZ were delicious, especially the pink-tinged ones with cream cheese and sprinkles on top.

PPS – TZ received my gift with the fiercest hug ever… I thought she would never let go. I returned the hug, thinking of the unspoken words between us and of all the sad things happening in our respective “home” countries…. Can cookies stop the senselessness?  Maybe not on a large scale but there’s this fine Chinese proverb that says that the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. I’m taking my steps. I wish more of you would join me because the journey feels lonely, very often….