California or Kuwait

GARY AWOKE TO bustling in the nearby bathroom. He blinked his eyes and put on glasses. The clock read 6:45. Gary climbed out of bed and stood in the bathroom door, admiring Lucia fussing with her hair. “Good morning,” he said, “You’re up early. What’s up?”

“I told you two days ago. I’m picking up Sandy at the airport,” she replied, mildly irritated.

“I think I would remember that.” Gary returned and sat on the bed, wondering.

Lucia came into the bedroom concerned. “Maybe I didn’t tell you. Or maybe I meant to and forgot. What else is bothering you?”

Gary did not look up. “I suppose she’s staying here, whoever she is. That’s how it works, isn’t it?”

“I guess I’ve been so wrapped up in my excitement, I made the mistake of assuming we talked about this. I am sorry, mi novio.” She kissed the top of his head, on his bald spot. “Sandy was one of my students during my first years teaching philosophy in college. We got back in touch with Facebook. I know this is another imposition, but I invited some of my old students — Sandy’s generation from college — to come to dinner. And yes, she will visit us for three days in our guest room. But that’s not all that’s bothering you. What is it?” Lucia stroked his arm.

Gary hung his head low. He sighed and breathed deeply. “I’m forgetting things. I’m wondering . . . I’m thinking . . . Am I losing it, Lucia? I don’t want to be like my father.”

“You are not your father,” Lucia asserted firmly. “And you’re not forgetting. You can’t forget what I don’t tell you.”

“Well,” Gary said, getting to his feet. “I’ll make up the guest room. How many for dinner this evening?”

“A table full.”

“Would you like your grandmother’s turkey mole?”

“That would be perfect, dear one.”

“Let’s see. I have to shop: chocolate, peanuts, and sesame seeds that go on the mole as the last ingredient. Your mom gave me the recipe, and I will never forget it because she was such a wonderful cook,” said Gary.

Their children Laura, Ellen, Sam, and Alexandria joined them in the kitchen for breakfast. They were excited to know a visitor — a visitor from outside the country — would arrive today.

“Mommy,” Ellen asked, “could you tell us about your friend?”

“Of course, I will. Sandy is an American girl who took several of my philosophy courses years ago. Shortly after she went off to graduate school, she fell in love with a young man from Kuwait. Do you know where Kuwait is located?”

The girls exchanged glances. They knew it was somewhere in the Middle East, and they remembered something about the Gulf War but knew nothing specific.

“Sorry, Mommy,” Ellen admitted.

“Don’t worry about it. This is why Socrates said, ‘I only know that I do not know anything.’ All of us have a lot to learn. Okay. Let’s see.”

“Wait,” said Sam, “I will tell you all about it. Kuwait is located on a corner of the Arab Gulf. Toward the south it is bordered by Saudi Arabia. To the north there is the Republic of Iraq. Am I right, Dad?”

Gary said yes, and the girls nodded, too, remembering from the news of the war.

“When Sandy finished her degree,” said Lucia, “she married the man from Kuwait, and they moved to that country. The young husband, you see, grew up in the Arab environment, and all his customs, music, religious rituals, and language were from Kuwait. If I am not mistaken, Sandy had grown up with very little religious influence. When she arrived in Kuwait, she began to familiarize herself with her husband’s religion, and she discovered a lot of human values that were soothing to her. Then, after she learned Arabic, she converted to Islam and accepted Muhammad as the prophet. I haven’t seen her since she married. But now, she comes to visit.”

“That’s exciting,” Laura said. “And we’ll get to meet her and talk to her?”

“Yes, you will,” Lucia assured.

A few hours later at the International Terminal, Lucia observed Sandy making her way through Customs. Physically, she had changed little; her figure was still trim, and her face vibrant and youthful. Sandy dressed traditionally for the contemporary Muslim world, wearing a black silk top buttoned to the wrist, black silk pants gathered at the ankle, and a demure scarf covering her hair. Once she cleared Customs, Lucia caught her in a great big hug, and they joyfully embraced, erasing years of separation. They drove straight to Lucia’s house, chattering all the way, mostly about where this student and that student had gotten, Lucia’s casual seminars at Kat’s Café, and the doings around the university. Entering her house, Lucia said, “Let me mix up a big pitcher of sangria!”

Sandy demurred. “Perhaps just tea?” she asked, lowering her eyes. In the kitchen, while the water boiled, Sandy removed her scarf.

“That’s what I remember. Beautiful strawberry blonde hair,” Lucia complimented.

Gary came through the back door carrying an armload of groceries. Sandy quickly covered her hair with her scarf, and Lucia introduced the two. They greeted each other warmly, and once Gary had the groceries in, he carried Sandy’s luggage to the guest room.

Lucia asked, “What’s with the scarf? Why did you put it back on when Gary came into the kitchen?”

“A married woman always has to cover her head when men are visiting the house,” replied Sandy.

“Including your husband?” asked Lucia.

“No, that is the exception,” Sandy responded.

Later in the day, Lucia noticed Sandy putting a little Persian rug on the floor in her room, kneeling and putting her head on the ground. Lucia asked, “I know this is part of the Islamic tradition, but I have to admit I know little about it. Do you mind explaining to me? I’m curious.”

“First of all,” said Sandy, “the rug must be placed in the direction of Mecca, the holy city of Muslims. Our prayers are in the form of a conversation in which one asks Allah to remove all the temptations and to give us strength against the evil that Satan places in front of us, such as the temptation to steal, take drugs, to get drunk, to lose self-control. We also ask forgiveness for our offenses. We also forgive our offenders, and we thank Allah for the well-being that is surrounding us, and this ritual we put into practice five times a day in order to continuously remind ourselves of the qualities and the good intentions of our religion. But actually to comprehend better how Islam works, all of us know a parable. Would you like to hear it?”

“Of course, I would love to hear it,” said Lucia.

“The story explains the life of the ascetic — that is to say, austerity, sobriety, moderation, frugality, and piety. All of that represents the philosophical meaning of Islam.”

“Keep going, all of this is extremely interesting,” said Lucia.

“Okay,” said Sandy. “The story goes as follows: One day a man woke up very early, nearly at dawn, in order to pray at the mosque — the church of the Muslims. That man, named Saad, washed himself, put on clean clothes, and left his house. Halfway to the mosque, he fell down and got all his clean clothes dirty. He returned to his house, cleaned up, changed his clothes, and left again for the mosque. But again poor Saad fell and got dirty! He returned to his house again, cleaned up, changed his clothes, and again left for the mosque. Then the whole thing happened a third time. By now, he hardly had any clean clothes to wear. But this time, he did not fall as he walked to the mosque. A man got close to him and gave him a lantern to light his way. Saad asked him, ‘Who are you?’

“The man said, ‘I saw you fall three times, and that is why I brought you this lamp.’ Saad thanked him profusely, and both of the men walked toward the mosque. When they arrived at the door, Saad asked the man to go in with him to pray, and the man said no.

“‘Why won’t you come inside to pray?’ asked Saad.

“And the man replied, ’I don’t pray because I am Satan.’ Saad couldn’t believe that Satan helped him so much. ’Look,’ said Satan. ’I saw you leave your house and head toward the mosque, and I was the one who made you fall. You got up, went back to your house, cleaned yourself up, and left again. When you did it for the second time, God forgave you for all your sins. The third time you went back to your house to change your clothing, God forgave your family for all the sins they committed. Then I became afraid,’ said Satan. ’I realized that if I made you fall one more time, God would forgive you for all the sins of your community. Therefore, I decided to help you arrive safe and sound at the mosque.’

“The moral of the story,” said Sandy, “is don’t ever allow Satan to benefit himself from his actions and don’t ever stop making your good intentions a reality because you never know what kind of benefit you may obtain from accepting suffering and pain when you are trying to do things that are good, decent, and honorable. That is to say, don’t fall into the temptation of avarice, fame, glory, pleasure, arrogance, or the excesses of tyranny, despotism, or plain abuse because you believe you can increase your personal position. All of those supposed benefits never really belong to you. To the contrary, those are human weaknesses that impoverish the good, honest, and creative spirit.”

“What a wonderful explanation,” Lucia said. “I must make time to study the ways of Islam. I’m sorry to say the faith has suffered a bad reputation, thanks to the men who terrorize people all over the world. But I know their philosophy is far different from yours.”

“Thank you. I knew you would understand. Sometimes I hear dread in my parents’ voices when we speak. They would be much happier if we lived here, preferably next door to them!” Sandy laughed. “My husband and I remain in Kuwait to educate our children until they are of age so they know the difference between the Eastern and Western world. We want them to know that human compassion is part of the inheritance of the Eastern world in contrast to the competitive behavior of the life in the West.”

“Completely understandable,” said Lucia.

“Lucia,” Sandy said urgently, “during your philosophy lectures, would you advise your students to read the Koran as part of your literature and try to understand its good and healthy intentions of love and universal peace in order to make sure they do not misinterpret the good people of Kuwait?”

Lucia took Sandy’s hand and patted it. “Bless you, my dearest friend, for everything that I have learned this morning. When our friends and colleagues come to dinner and enjoy the wonderful mole that Gary is already preparing, I would love it if you would tell them the Muslim parable.”

“For me,” said Sandy, “it would be an honor to share such philosophy.” She inhaled deeply the aromas of Gary’s cooking that permeated the house. “I am almost drooling from the smell of that wonderful dinner Gary is preparing.”

“Me too,” said Lucia. “Me, too.”


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Muchas Gracias for taking the time to read this chapter of my book There Is Always A Choice. I will be posting new chapters every week. If you would like to purchase the book, a copy is waiting for you on Amazon.com.