Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spinning Parallel Lines

So in two weeks I'm heading back to DC for the weekend to visit Christian and I can't tell you how excited I am. It's the first time I've been back since I served my mission out there so naturally my mission has been on my mind more than not lately.

Chris goes to church in the same building that the Spanish ward meets in that I served in for 6 of my 16 months in the field. He knows all the leadership and goes to their firesides. He attends meetings in the same chapel that people I taught were baptized and confirmed in. It's a strange comfort to know part of me, even by blood extension, is still tending to that flock.*

So naturally I've been more than a little reminiscent and pensive about my 16 months in DC and what I learned there and who I was and who I became.

DC is a demographic wonderland and being a missionary there was a trip on Planet Unicorn almost everyday. One of the dimensions of the social landscape that was really really different from home was the amazing number of Muslims there were. In every apartment complex we lived in, the majority of the other people were these beautiful meek Muslim families. We'd come out of whatever Quick-E mart with a snack and turn the corner and find a few individuals at noon time prayer with their little carpets in the parking space next to ours. It was pretty common thing. Some women wore scarves, some didn't, some wore the burkha, some didn't. I'm not going to lie, the burkhas took me a while to get used to. We called them ninjas because looking over in traffic and only seeing a black hood driving in the car next to me startled me more than once. Or when we went down to do laundry they were there too, with their munchkins in tow, doing their thing.

I figured we were equally as weird with our name tags on so I struck up conversations and they were responsive, educated, and very well mannered**, we borrowed each other's soap and fabric softener, I played with their kids while they folded and they almost always let me in in traffic***. Out of everyone, and they types of everyone, I met in DC the Muslim women were the kindest and the most comforting. On the hot hot hot days they were the ones that let us in, even if they didn't speak a lick of the language. They just nodded, smiled, gestured for us to sit down, gave us something cool to drink and politely just sat with us****. They also were the only ones that let us in on the snowy days with something warm to drink. Most times they couldn't communicate with us, they just knew we were in need and they helped us. Plain as that.

This was all before 9/11 and I cannot tell you how grateful I was for that social education during that disaster. There were a few times that I was walking to my car from class and saw a group of guys teasing a Muslim girl about her scarf and poking and prodding her asking to see her hair. Both times I shooed them away, put my arm around the girl and walked her to her car or waited with her to get picked up, and both times the poor girl was trembling. I could tell that the guys weren't being malicious, just troublesome. They didn't understand how terrifying and invasive that would've been to her, but thankfully I did. And after all the kindness I've received how I could I do anything else? Especially for them? That kind of ignorance angers me. A LOT. I talked to the security guard a couple of times too. Totally inexcusable. But I digress...

So - with all this stirring in my mind this article was in my LA Times feed on my iGoogle this morning and it gave me pause.

I know that critics are chomping at the bit to exploit these kind of friendships and scream patriotic blasphemy, but if you look at the world's population 2.1 billion are Christian and 1.5 billion are Muslim and the majority of the Muslim population live in countries that stand in need, so naturally if we're sending aid to people who need it there is a good chance that they'll be Muslim. And honestly, I can't think of a people I'd rather associate myself with than them. They are some of the most kind, genuine, principled and disciplined people around. I was so happy when I read this article.

Understanding is such an empowering thing, I just really wish more people were open to it. I desperately don't want people to judge my faith by the toothless and badly dressed Polygamist redneck wonders that claim to be LDS so I won't judge every girl around me wearing a scarf as an anarchist extremist with bomb recipes in their glove compartments.

I don't know why honest belief in something scares so many people. Belief is a beautiful thing, if not the most beautiful thing, and the only thing that leads to honest human connection. I hope you'll give a smile and a nod to our scarfed sisters and hard-working brothers because they are amazing people. Truly amazing.

* When the ward heard I was coming back not only did they remember me but they're throwing me a "Welcome Home Party". I was so touched when I heard I cried.
**something I VASTLY appreciate. Manners are a lost art and something that strangely really matters to me.
*** signs of serious virtue in DC traffic (read: Insanity)
**** and can I just sing the praises for keeping alive the lost art of being someones company. It goes back to the manners thing I think.

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