Last night, I found myself sitting in a living room on the last evening of Ramadan, the only non-Muslim in house full of nearly two dozen people.
They were waiting for sunset so they could eat and drink for the first time since dawn at 5 that morning.
I was merely waiting for my third meal of the day, but simply being there was my own personal miracle. A year ago, I had never spoken more than a few words to a Muslim person. And my thoughts about my Muslim neighbors consisted mostly of, “Wow, that head scarf must be hot.”
Even yesterday, before I walked into that house, I had heard of Ramadan, but had no idea what it meant. Thirty days of fasting from dawn to sunset, not even taking a sip of water in the heat of August. Thirty days of praying late into the night and rising to eat before the sun comes up. Thirty unrelenting days of hunger and fatigue, while the routines and obligations of regular life go on.
And yet, during those 30 days, Muslims are called upon to be their best selves — to be kind and pious, to be generous and compassionate, to invite family and friends into their homes.
I have spent a lifetime feeling sorry for people who deny themselves the freedom to eat or wear or do whatever they want. Yet, it took only two hours in that house for me to see the error of my thinking.
For the first time, I saw the power in those sacrifices.
While I spend my days addicted to my own comfort, trying constantly to satisfy my cravings, becoming irritated at small inconveniences, Ramadan has taught my Muslim friends to accept that life isn’t always comfortable. It has taught them to live up to their ideals even when things are hard.
While I am so often sequestered in my privileged world, wishing for more than I already have, their hunger and thirst reminds them to be grateful for what they do have and compassionate for those who go without all year round. During Ramadan, a glass of water becomes a miracle.
But most of all, what I learned from sitting in that living room was how much we all have in common — no matter how differently we dress or pray. Many of the women I ate with had been born and raised in this country, blowing up my perception that Ramadan and Islam were merely foreign traditions.
And whether we are immigrants or natives, Muslims, Jews, Christians or athiests, we all love to be surrounded by our families and friends, to smile and laugh, to enjoy good food. We all wake up every day and try to figure out how to do our best, despite our failings and cravings.
I left wishing I could figure out how to give every person in North Carolina the opportunity to sit in the living room of someone they consider “foreign” and understand for themselves how difference dissolves when we truly see each other.