MY MUSLIM “FAMILY” or How I Got Adopted

“INSHALLAH, CHILD OF ABRAHAM.” To A Most Beautiful Young Eagle on His Final Earthly Flight

For many years we shared time at a Ronald McDonald House in Chicago with families from many Arab Nations. As women we were told not to touch the men and to let the families initiate contact as they desired. So I was hesitant at times to approach any Arab there.

As the years passed we all became more comfortable with each other and began trading ideas and offering help to each other. The first time I shared in the impending death of a child, I stood under a street light with his Arab mother while she and I wept together and she showed me photos of her son when he was healthy. He was her only child and she and her husband had fought so long to keep him. Mohammed died the next morning and his father came to me and said, ” Will you come and look at my wife?” I thought he meant for me to talk with her, but when I reached their room she was lying passed out across the bed like a broken bird. I do not think she had really slept in weeks. Her husband stood there gazing with such love at her, then he turned to me and said, “Isn’t she beautiful?” And he put his arms around me. He really did mean for me to “look” at her and see how beautiful she was.

Over several years a Saudi family came to the House frequently with several of their children who were in need of the same kind of organ transplants. The family was evidently high class because the husband, Nasir, was shown great deference by all the other families and was kind of a tribal leader. Nasir and I had many conversations about the genetic problems that occurred in his family because of inbreeding (his wife was a cousin to him), but he knew that the custom would not change, one always married within the clan. We discussed God and philosophy and he frequently asked about life in Alaska (which he was amused by and could not get a clear picture of), while I tried to learn more of his life. His wife smiled at me but spoke almost no English. Since she was the “chief” wife, most of the other women were kind but distant. Everyone seemed to love my daughter, even Nasir, who had a daughter the same age.

One day I went to the large living room where the men gathered every day to listen to Al-Jazeera. It was my habit to sit in another corner and knit. I noticed that the women, who never came into the living room, were all sitting in the rotunda of the room and had turned towards me as I came in. I was puzzled as Nasir approached me and all the other men also turned towards me. Nasir engaged me in a conversation in front of everyone, which seemed to center around my belief in God. He finally seemed satisfied by my answers and put his hand out to me. I was startled but thought he just wanted to shake hands with me so I also extended my hand. He grabbed my hand, pulled me into his arms and kissed each of my cheeks, then he stepped back and all of the men shook their heads in what appeared to be consent at what had happened. All the women smiled and began talking and everyone looked happy.

Stunned and not understanding what had just gone on, I smiled at them all and went to my customary chair to knit.

Whenever I was at the house after that I was treated as family. If the women cooked they fed me, anxious for me to like their food. Most of the women stopped veiling themselves around me, and, interestingly enough, some of them also unveiled in front of my husband.

I still do not know what happened when Nasir kissed me that day, but I felt like I had been “adopted.” I am so aware now of the wars and general instability in the Mid-East because my friends and their children are there. I worry about them and weep for their losses. I understand the minds of some of the people because they have shared them with me.

My daughter and I kept a heart-rending deathwatch over a beautiful Arab child named after the eagles while his body rejected a kidney and lung transplant. Watching the process of dying for one trying so hard to live is not for the faint of heart. His father could not bear to see his child, his beloved son, suffer. He fell apart if he came into the room. His wife took longer but finally could watch no more either. Many times my daughter and I were the only ones in his room but we tried to be there at least once a day. We spoke to him often and could see his wonderful personality peeking out while we wiped his face and let him know how much we had come to love him. His death was a blow to so many people, but the Arab word Inshallah (as Allah wills) guides and sustains the people of the Islamic faith. They have a kind of fatalism, for want of a better word, that helps them cope in ways more westernized people don’t understand very well.

One question I had about the Arabs has been answered very clearly. I always wondered why the Iranians released their U.S. hostages as soon as Jimmy Carter was no longer President. I now know that Arabs only respect their enemies if they are strong and they knew that Carter was weak. Ronald Reagan was a man they could respect as a “worthy” enemy.

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