I finally got Mohammad to speak.
Not, like, the Islamic prophet. I mean the dude who mans the checkout stand in the grocery store. As a restless, annoying creature, I’m the sort who’ll get bored and start mentally and physically fidgeting if I’m among others but not talking to them for too long. This is probably why I’ve never quite acclimated to yoga class. Or any class in school either. But the other day I did get schooled – by cashier Mohammad. Not in a “lay a knowledge smackdown” way, mind you. More of a peripheral lesson about the connections you can make when you’re not locking your brain into a single asshole labyrinth you never leave to glean anything new from the world.
I’d been trying to get the dude to open up for months.
Why, Ashley? Leave the poor bastard alone.
Well, 1. I can’t. And 2. every time I check out in his lane he looks miserable and hates life. So I always attempt to get him talking and can usually get him laughing, but then he always stops himself mid-chuckle; he seems like he feels ashamed for this interjection of joy into his daily duty as he’s glowing while talking about his children or family. He seems happy. And it’s refreshing – seeing his eyes and face transform momentarily as he talks about them. But that vast transformation also makes me wonder how shitty the rest of his life is that he gets feather-ruffled by a bit o’ positive human interaction. So, finally, the other day, I played dumb. I knew there was a good chance he was probably Muslim, but I decided to go for it anyway: “You doing anything special for your lady on Valentine’s Day?” To be fair, it’s become more of an annual commercial event of saccharine pageantry than a holi (holy) day. And that’s when he quietly said… “Oh no… we instead celebrate things like a feast – after fasting – for Ramadan.”
(Non-sarcastic. Genuinely, I didn’t know. Can’t assume.)
I admittedly know very little about Islam, so I was legit intrigued now.
Which is interesting in itself because usually I have to fake interest to make myself interested in people who aren’t me. My desire to interact socially always starts with wanting to just be ego-validated, and if I’m lucky the whole getting lost in their world will settle in and start to unshackle me from this imprisoning proclivity toward solipsism I harbor. So extreme dieting was an excellent segue for Mohammad to share his faith with me. (Then again, maybe I was just happy ’cause I finally got him talking). “Are you still hungry for the feast after fasting for so long?” I wondered, “And does it make you feel lighter and better – like detoxes are meant to do?” Again, his mug Cinderella’d into extreme glee as he replied with elation: “Yes! You feel cleansed!” Then he went onto explain bits of the Koran and why they kill a sheep as part of the tradition and how I should look up a certain book explaining it. Homeboy was so enthusiastic that he forgot to process my credit card transaction and bag a few of my groceries. And I was so enthused about getting him enthused that I failed to realize a long line had formed behind me. His voice had even risen a few decibels – which was funny because when I glanced over my shoulder, I saw a frail white lady who’d overheard him, rocking a worried expression. So when he made this suggestion, I turned back to him and say, “Yeah! I think I will look it up.” Also seeing the woman’s silent reaction, he then added more sadly, “Islam is beautiful but people like Laden and them are spoiling it.”
That bummed me out.
People can go on about Jesus and just earn an eyeroll. But a brown dude with an accent starts talking about Islam and people stiffen up and start switching to the next lane like they’re afraid they’re gonna get beheaded or exploded right there in front of the bakery while soft rock drones in the background. So I tried my best when I said I’d check it out and added, “I enjoy learning about all the different religions. They all have some good message somewhere in ‘em” loud enough for the suspicious lady to hear. Because I understand the tendency to be closed-minded. In many ways, with other non-godly things – I still give into that corridor-focus sometimes. And sometimes hearing other people being willing to see outside the box helps me do it too.
It takes a little eye opening to realize most religions don’t hurt people – people who misinterpret them do.
And if that fact bothers you, that’s alright too:
And that’s why what I really wish I’d said to Mo was how he’s doing a pretty good damned job of working to counteract this “spoiling” of it himself. ‘cause when I asked him about a Christian holiday, he didn’t get asshole-y on me and expect me to know he was Muslim. He respectfully explained it to me. That’s a lot more kind or spiritual or whatever other stuff religions tell you to be than I see outta most people who’ve lived here in America their whole lives and expect you to psychically cater to their beliefs. I mean, God (whichever one you please – if you please) forbid you wish a stranger a “Merry Christmas” (which let’s face it – has become about as commercial as V-day). In fact, if we’re talking about planes going down because of religion – the last one I heard having to make an emergency landing was because of a dude who went ape-shit on the flight crew for saying exactly that.
Whatever you believe or don’t, you can still avoid being a closed minded douche. You can’t control what other people say or do, so why upset yourself over it? Why not assume they have good intentions in mind while wishing you a happy day – “holi” or not – and go from there? Educate them if you like. But why is “Oh, I’m Jewish, but thanks for the thought” so much harder to say than, “Oh, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in Islam – we do this other cool fast ‘n feast later on instead”? Let’s all take a tip from my affable cashier and remember that whatever faith we follow – be it the Jesus club or that astral travel one I always see on Oprah’s network – we should do exactly that. Remember that we don’t own it. We follow it. Like some infallible Twitter celebrity. Your job isn’t to try and hack its account so you can play god and paraphrase the message into acrid or sardonic hate for the masses while you throw lightning bolts.
Your job’s to read, retweet, and then live it when you’re not online.
Just like open-minded Mo.