As you who read my blog know, I was recently in Chicago to meet my infant grandson and help my youngest daughter and her partner as they acclimated to their new roles as parents. Those of you who have the pleasure of being grandparents know how exciting and frightening those first few days can be. From fumbling with diapers, to getting up with every gurgle, grunt and groan that emits from the wee one, to simply gazing in awe at this new life your children have brought forth, the first days of a person’s life is a wonder to behold. Of course, knowing the demands that await these two loving parents, my job was to give them the space they needed to enjoy the newness of parenthood. Washing clothes or dishes, offering encouraging words, or simply holding Eli so my daughter could have a few minutes for self pampering, all of it was a labor of love for Mary, Eric, and little Elijah.
Beyond the pragmatic though, were moments of contemplation. As I studied Eli’s face, or felt the tug of his little fingers on my pinky, or massaged his tiny feet (he likes that!) I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of world Eli would inherit from us. These insular moments of infancy where all of his needs would be provided for, where nurture was abundant, where his world consisted of his parents and himself with the rest of us orbiting about from time to time, would soon enough give way to the broader world of scraped knees and hurt feelings. Would the bigger world be kind to Eli? Would he weather the storms to eventually become a man of strength and honor? Heady questions for such a little one, but at times the thoughts crossed my mind.
Too soon I had to return home. As much as I loved spending time with this precious family, I missed my husband. Before long it would be time to start preparing for Passover. We are nearing the closing date on the purchase of our new home and I needed to start packing . . . again. My daughter and I shared tears as I left. She tugged at my heartstrings. After all, she is my baby. Her tears were those of a new mother who wanted her mother to stay just a tad longer. I knew in those moments though, something she was still unsure of, that she and Eric were fine parents and would do well without me. I was no longer needed there. The tears were an expression of love on both of our parts.
As I boarded the train into Chicago, my heart was now beating for home. Later that day, as I boarded the Megabus that would take me back to Cleveland, I noticed that there was an unusually large number of boarders for this trip. Instead of having a seat to myself to stretch out and relax, or to read or work on final projects for class, I was relegated to tucking my backpack under my seat and holding purse, camera, coat, and travel pillow in my lap as a total stranger took the seat next to me. It was going to be an uncomfortable six hour trip for sure. To top it off, the man who sat next to me was a Muslim. I am Jewish. Oy . . . All I could think of was that he would probably give me grief if or when he found out my identity. Oh well. I would make the best of it. This was the first time I had ever traveled by Megabus where we were packed in like sardines.
Soon after the bus pulled out and we were headed back home, the young man next to me opened up a package of cookies and offered me a cookie.
“No thank you,” I replied.
“I apologize for having to take up your space,” he offered in a soft voice.
“No problem” said I.
“Do you come to Chicago very often?” he pursued.
“When I can. My daughters live here. What about you?”
“This is my first time here. Chicago is a beautiful city.”
Detecting an accent, I asked, “Where is your home?”
“Istanbul, Turkey. Have you ever been there?”
“No, afraid not.”
It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to religion. Maybe he noticed that I wore a cap, or maybe he was just curious. He volunteered that he was Muslim, Sunni to be exact.
“Are you a religious person?” he asked.
“Yes, I am. Jewish. Orthodox” I replied.
By now I was uneasy but I was not going to shy away from the fact that my Jewishness defines who I am and how I live in this world.
The conversation continued for the remainder of the trip. For six hours we discussed our beliefs, our similarities, our differences, our families and customs. For six hours we laughed, at moments treading softly not knowing how the other would respond. I questioned Muslim practices that to me seemed strange, and he did the same with me concerning Jewish observances. Always respectful, Ibrihim appeared to relish the discussion as much as I did. We talked about prayer and what our different prayers meant to us, about our holy writings and their importance in our lives. We talked about the differences of growing up in the US versus life for him in Turkey. Respect of one’s elders (he nodded to me when he spoke about this) was of utmost importance and how it pained him to see such disrespect in this country. I questioned him on the things I read about the treatment of women in that part of the world. We tiptoed around the tensions in the middle east. Yet, despite a little unease on that subject, he was the one who concluded that I must return to Israel, the homeland of the Jews. He was the one who observed that my soul would always be restless till the day I set foot in our land.
The hours flew by. I learned a lot on this trip home from Chicago. When we arrived at our destination, he thanked me for being such a gracious seat partner on our journey. I wished him well in his studies and his future endeavors, then he disappeared into the crowd. As I stepped off the bus (midnight) my husband was there to greet me. And I was full of news about our newest grandchild, Elijah. I was glad to be back home. I was thrilled to fill “Zaide” in on all the details about Elijah. But I would not forget about my trip back from Chicago, either.
Now, days later, I am encouraged about the world that Elijah will inherit. There are no guarantees in life, no way of knowing what will be. But I am reassured of what is possible. When Jew and Muslim can talk there is hope. Certain segments of society will never sit down to the negotiating table. I know that. And as long as rockets are being lobbed into Israel (daily they fall on Israel!) how can there be talk of peace? On the other hand, when common people can talk about their similarities and differences, there is hope. And that gives me hope for our precious Elijah and the world he will inherit.