It’s easy and comfortable to surround ourselves with like-minded people, to live in our chosen silos. But where will that get us as a community of diverse and differently-opinionated, differently-believing humans? Last month columnist Eman H. Aly wrote about a chance friendship that developed between her and a gentleman she met on a plane. This month, she writes about that growing friendship and breaking through to a place of acceptance.
We continued to chat over text and kept in touch. The next time I was in the Washington D.C. area, we met for breakfast, and he kindly picked up the tab. We chatted some more, and I have to be honest, it was still weird. We hadn’t broken through the wall of being comfortable with one another, and I thought we never would.
When we first met, he showed me what he does on weekends. His hobby and passion is woodworking, and he has made some beautiful furniture for family and friends. He told me that he occasionally made cutting boards for co-workers. When I asked for one, he said that I had to make him something in return.
I said, “Umm, I could devise a social media strategy?” He wasn’t interested, but I remembered that I dabbled in knitting and told him I could knit him a scarf. And that was the deal we struck. So, I began to knit. I told him not to show me the progress, I just wanted to see the final product.
I took my knitting with me when I went to Jerusalem for a leadership program, and it helped me focus and cope with all the difficult things I was encountering. I was the butt of jokes about my knitting, but it centered me. I finally sent Chris his scarf a few weeks before spring.
His gift arrived way before mine did, and it took my breath away. I haven’t used it as a cutting board, even though he could make me another one. It just was so beautiful, and I know how much time he put into it. I felt so humbled that he would take the time to make that for me. I am someone he barely knew, and I disagreed with him about a lot of fundamental things like if our president was doing a good job.
The next time we met, it was again in D.C. We met for a quick lunch. It was soon after my sleeve surgery, and I wasn’t really ready to travel. But the possibility of seeing him again after months was good motivation. In between our face to face meetings, we would chat over text, and we really started to enjoy each other’s company. This lunch was too short, and we decided to meet for coffee the next day. And that’s when we finally got into it. And boy, did we get into it.
This time, we had no time limits, and everything was on the table. We talked about everything from Trump’s presidency to female genital mutilation. And, while we didn’t solve the world’s problems, we were able to understand from where the other was coming. We actually agreed about a lot of stuff. Much of his criticism of the American Muslim community was fair, and I agreed.My criticism of the right was understood and acknowledged, even if Chris didn’t agree. We finally crossed the threshold into being comfortable with each other. We not only tolerated one another, but we even grew to like each other too. I still thought I was right, and he was wrong, and I just didn’t have a strong enough argument or I wasn’t convincing enough.
Chris doesn’t use pronouns. If I ask him how he’s doing, his reply will be “am fine.” Even when he first emailed, he said “was great meeting you.” I also pick on his grammatical mistakes. Sometimes he does it on purpose because it’s a pet peeve. Many times, he’ll see a too* or a you’re* from me.
One time when I was particularly reflective, or maybe I was a little high on pain meds from my surgery, I told him — and it surprised me — that the reason I picked on his grammar and spelling was because I was always trying to find fault in him. I honestly told him that I was trying to poke holes in his ideology. He asked me if I had found any, and I said I didn’t know enough to. It didn’t matter, really, because that wasn’t the point of leaving my silo.
The Quran says that God made us into nations and tribes so that we may know one another. God didn’t give us differences so we can prove each other wrong and thereby prove ourselves to be solely right.
It was a huge epiphany for me, and I realized what a goof I was being. Still, I didn’t even apologize for being so narrow-minded. I secretly wanted to prove him wrong. This was another threshold that we crossed. This is when I finally left my silo.
I left my silo when I stopped trying to call Chris to mine. I dug around for the date that we took that flight together. It was October 28th. I told him that we should exchange gifts again. I asked him what he wanted. He said he would never dictate a gift, which was incredibly kind and something I am not used to. Just ask my husband!
But, he did say that he hoped that we would be friends for a long time. That was easy! I told him that either I’ll be at his funeral or he’ll be at mine. I am pretty sure I have made a friend for life.
This is part two of a two-part story. Read part one here!
Eman H. Aly works in digital communications and academic research. In her spare time she works in issues surrounding Muslim-Jewish relations in Chicago. Her digital home is at Eman.Land. She writes her Altmuslim column, Emansplaining, every third week of the month.